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Suffolk County, New York, Imposes Warnings on Liquid Nicotine

Mar 27, 2015

Under a law signed Monday by County Executive Steve Bellone, stores in Suffolk County, New York have 90 days to post warnings about the dangers of liquid nicotine.

The signs must warn that liquid nicotine used in electronic cigarettes can be fatal and is addictive. The signs have to be posted "in a conspicuous place at the register" at retailers where liquid nicotine is sold, Newsday reports.

County legislator Sarah Anker sponsored the bill, citing increased calls to poison control centers and the death of an 18-month-old boy in upstate New York last year. "Vaping" -- inhaling vapor from an electronic cigarette -- has become popular as an alternative to smoking. But the liquid nicotine used in vaping is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). "It's imperative we do everything in our power to prevent another tragic death from liquid nicotine," Anker said. At the signing, Bellone held a container of red strawberry-flavored liquid nicotine, and said, "You can see these are products that would obviously be attractive to small children."

Liquid nicotine, a neurotoxin, can cause vomiting, seizures, rapid heartbeat, and death, The New York Times reports. As little as a teaspoon of diluted e-liquid can kill a child. E-liquids do not currently have to be packaged in childproof bottles. Poison control and health professionals worry that e-cigarette users, unaware of the dangers, may leave e-liquids where children have easy access to them.

Gas station retailers oppose the bill, Newsday reports, because the signs would take up valuable space near registers and put a burden on their businesses. Last year, retailers unsuccessfully fought a county law that increased the age to purchase tobacco products to 21 from 18.

The law includes a civil penalty of $250 for the first violation, $500 for the second and $1,000 for subsequent violations. The county health department will enforce the law through complaints and as part of its other inspections. The sign, which retailers can download from the county's web site, states "KEEP OUT OF CHILDREN'S REACH" and "INGESTION OF LIQUID NICOTINE MAY BE FATAL" among other warnings, Newsday reports.

Experts disagree about the risks of e-cigarettes. Some say the devices offer a safer alternative to inhaling the toxins in cigarette smoke, and they could save millions of lives. But others argue that e-cigarettes pose their own dangers; recent research suggests that higher-voltage e-cigarettes can generate significant carcinogens, as conventional cigarettes do. Critics say manufacturers see e-cigarettes as a route to eventual tobacco smoking, not as a way to assist smokers to quit, according to the New York Times.

The FDA is working on e-cigarette product standards relating to addiction, toxicity, and product appeal, according to Reuters. The FDA will adopt regulations for approving new products and monitoring them after they reach the market.

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