Pure Nicotine and Electronic Cigarettes: What’s the risk?

Old fashioned drug bottle.

Michael Bedford had bought the bottle online.

He swallowed two spoonfuls from the bottle at a party. Shortly after, he became ill, started slurring his words and vomiting.

He was taken to hospital, where he died.

What had he bought?


And with two spoonfuls, he had ingested the same amount of caffeine as in 70 cans of red bull.

Deadly Substances

Skull in flames.

Which is interesting, because a BBC presenter recently argued drinking coffee and vaping were not the same because:

“…a drop of pure nicotine on the tongue would kill you.”

Source: BBC Interview

But the nicotine in electronic cigarettes is not pure.

So the statement by the BBC  is irrelevant, because if we took the ingredients in many things we use day to day, and used them in a pure form, we would die or become very sick.

Coffee: 10 grams of caffeine would kill 1 in 2 people.

Coffee pictured with coffee beans.

Vinegar: Household vinegar contains around 5% acetic acid. Concentrated acetic acid, however, causes skin burns and permanent eye damage and can kill if swallowed.

Pouring vinegar.

Alcohol: Pure and/or industrial alcohol can cause blindness, poisoning and death.

A bottle of elager.

Water: Many of the thousands of toxic chemicals in water would kill us if we used them in a pure form. Despite the presence of arsenic in much of the water we drink (in doses too low too cause any immediate harm) there have been few calls for water to be banned!

Filling a glass of tap water.

Update: In the comments below Sutherland has pointed out that vegetables also contain nicotine, which we have written about here: Tennessee to ban vegetables.

It’s the dose that makes the poison

As scientists know, it’s the dose that make the poison.

Ban products on the basis of their ingredients, even when those ingredients are at safe levels, and we’d all die of starvation and thirst.

What actually causes harm in the house…

Coloured bottles of cleaning products.

But nicotine products, whether in cigarettes, NRT aids or in tobacco harm reduction products, have been in use for years.

Which means we have data on what actually causes harm.

Another e-cig/THR blog, Stop The Antz, has been putting together some data about incidents caused by different products.

Tobacco products (including NRT and e-cigarettes) total exposure 8,335 (Children Under 12: 89%):

Deaths: 0
Major Injury: 0
Moderate Injury:  151
Minor Injury: 1,773 

Far more danger to children comes from the use of household cleaning products:

Household Cleaners total exposures: 180,493 (Children under 12: 65%)

Deaths: 21
Major injury: 194
Moderate: 4,492
Minor: 71,219

(Thanks to Kristin Noll Mash for highlighting this data in this excellent blog post.)

It’s clear that household cleaning products pose a greater danger to children than products containing nicotine. As Kristin also points out, existing nicotine cessation aids, some of which have names attractive to children (fruit chill) and use cartoons for marketing, are accepted for general use despite carrying roughly e-cig levels of nicotine.

Safety First

Cartoon man in hard yellow hat holding safety first sign.

While it’s clear that nicotine is not the biggest household risk to consumers, we should avoid complacency.

As with all products, we do need to take care that e-cigarettes, cartridges and liquid are properly manufactured and packaged in child proof containers.

One of the biggest dangers with e-cigarettes, in our opinion, is that a cowboy operator, producing in his shed or buying from a dodgy overseas supplier, will produce a device or liquid which isn’t safe. (Update: Since this post was written new EU regulations have effectively dealt with this by requiring emissions testing of vape products.)

That’s why you should only buy from reputable suppliers who comply with UK and EU regulations and who regularly test their devices and e-liquid.

Also see:

Nicotine and Electronic Cigarettes: 10 Facts All Users Should Know
An Interview With Nicotine Expert Dr Jacques Houezeq
How Much E-liquid Does It Take To Kill You

Scary Bottle of Poison

Article Sources

Bronstein et al, 2010 Annual Report of the American Association of Poison Control Centers ’ National Poison Data System (NPDS): 28th Annual Report, Clinical Toxicology (2011), 49, 910–941, ISSN: 1556-3650 print / 1556-9519 online, DOI: 10.3109/15563650.2011.635149

Moldoveanu S.C, Nicotine Analysis in Several Non-Tobacco Plant Materials, May 2016, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/cttr-2016-0008

9 thoughts on “Pure Nicotine and Electronic Cigarettes: What’s the risk?”

  1. Cor, you brought back a memory. I once worked in a local chippy and one of my jobs was making up the vinegar. That ascetic acid is terrible stuff!

  2. I like what E-cig-Gazette says and well true about elites, now they are ripping peeps off, I felt like I was loseing weight off me cheeks when dragging on one, I thru it away in the end and this woman cant be doing this either because thats got to be against the law. I like what Philip says to because I could drink a bottle of antifreeze and kill meself or a bottle of head ache tabs duhhh

  3. Thanks James, I hadnt seen that one!
    As per your comments on the Tenessee post about combustion…
    How is it that people chewing tobacco are getting mouth cancer? Or is that just the anti smoking lobby hype (never done research on the subject).
    I am starting to think that tobacco is safe, people have smoked it forever. The problem(s) are the additives, and the paper its rolled in!

  4. I am not an expert on oral tobacco, most of my comments are based on our interviews with scientists. Dr Joel Nitzkin, for example, told us:

    “And the literature on snus, which is evaluated on our website, basically shows that in the best of the epidemiological studies available today snus do not increase any cause of death.”


    I do know that some forms of oral tobacco are more dangerous than others – Snus is one of the safest ones.

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