"Vaping Teens Hospitalized For Nicotine Exposure"

August 12, 2019

Ah yes, another click-bait headline, structured to vaguely summarize the "facts" behind the true story. This time around, a bunch of teens were sent to hospital for “nicotine exposure”. Which is completely unfounded. Let’s break these claims down into why this is a completely false headline. 

The easiest way to break this down is by nicotine exposure itself. By nicotine exposure we assume it means via dermal contact. The reason for this is it is very hard to actually overdose on nicotine by inhalation alone. The rapid onset and short duration of nicotine is a big reason overdose by e-liquid is very hard. Sure it may make you light headed or even feel queasy, it doesn’t pose a direct threat to your long term health. The LD50 of nicotine is 50mg/kg (rat) orally and 140mg/kg (rat) for dermal exposure[1]. The most common e-liquid is 3mg/mL of liquid. In a 60mL bottle of e-liquid this equates to 180mg of nicotine total in the bottle. The average weight of a 17-year-old male is 140lbs, and 130lbs for a 17-year-old female. If we convert this to metric ;) then we get 63kg and 58kg respectively. The lethal dose or LD50 for a teen if ingested orally is 3,150mg and 2,900mg. And the LD50 of e-liquid for the same teens dermally exposure is 8,820mg and 8,120mg. In simple terms that is around 17.5 bottles of e-liquid at 3mg orally. Or 49 bottles of 3mg e-liquid dermally. As you can see that is a whack load of e-liquid. Nicotine concentrations available on the market is generally regarded as safe. I highly doubt there is teens drinking or bathing in e-liquid. The usual amounts of e-liquid that end up on the skin are of no harm at all. Any dermal exposure to e-liquid should be washed off however, it is not going to kill you.

Now let’s look at salt nicotine. The average salt nicotine is 35mg/mL. This is much higher than freebase options. While there is currently no LD50 listed for nicotine salts, we can assume it’s the same as regular nicotine. 35mg/mL in a 30mL bottle which is the most common size equals 1,050mg total in the bottle. Now we are getting somewhere. That’s a lot of nicotine! However, using the same numbers as above we are left with at least 3 bottles of 35mg salt nicotine, orally, for death to occur. Or 8 bottles of 35mg salt nicotine e-liquid dermal. Still a ridiculous amount of product. Headlines are design to be click-bait and get ad revenue. The media has now resorted to catchy headlines to try and scrape by. If we result to reasoning with science, we find that e-liquid exposure isn’t all that dangerous for adults. The reason childproof and tamper proof bottles are used for e-liquid is to prevent youth access, especially to toddlers whom 1 bottle could harm. It’s important to always dig into what you are reading if there is money to be made from click through then the article usually has a bias.


[1] https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/idlh/54115.html

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