Warning over child nicotine poisoning

Leo Schep
Leo Schep
A spike in children being poisoned by nicotine replacement products has prompted Dunedin toxicologists to suggest the introduction of child-resistant packaging.

The number of calls received by the Dunedin-based National Poisons Centre after children under the age of 6 had been exposed to nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) increased almost 15-fold between 2004, when there were four calls, and 2011, when there were 59.

Nicotine poisoning can produce a range of symptoms, including nausea and vomiting and, in extreme cases, death.

The centre raised the issue of children getting hold of NRT products in a letter to the Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health, in which it connected the spike in calls with a dramatic increase in the amount of NRT products - including gum, lozenges and patches - being sold.

Sales of the NRT products almost trebled between 2007, when 32.5 million single units were sold, and 2011, when 87.7 million were sold.

With most cases involving children being exposed to NRT products in their homes, parents should be informed of ways to prevent children from accessing them, the centre said in the letter.

''NRT products need to be stored out of the reach of children and used products need to be disposed of appropriately.''

The centre also suggested the possibility of introducing child-resistant packaging.

''Such containers are effective in reducing accidental poisoning in children, and implementation of safety packaging could potentially help to reduce paediatric NRT exposures.''

National Poisons Centre toxicologist Dr Leo Schep, one of the letter's authors, said he could not recall any ''nasty cases'' and a common outcome was children were sent to medical centres for observation as a precaution.

Occasionally, the child became pale and vomited, but in most cases they were ''fine'', he said.

Nicotine poisoning was taken seriously and there was a low threshold - for instance if a child chewed only one piece of gum - at which it was recommended children should be taken to the doctor for observation.

NRT products should not be stored in places like handbags, he said.

-vaughan.elder@odt.co.nz

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