Danger from nicotine

The New Straits Times, May 22,1995

Q: Recently, while waiting to see the doctor at a clinic, I caught my two-year-old daughter chewing on a cigarette stub which she had found in a flower pot. I told the staff and was told that there was nothing to worry about. Is chewing cigarette tobacco really harmless to children?

A: The most notorious ingredient in tobacco is nicotine. The majority of reported cases of nicotine poisoning are not serious but cigarette ingestion has  the potential to induce severe and even fatal complications, especially in young children.

Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, salivation and sweating. Severe intoxication may result in convulsions, alterations in the heart rate (normally slowing down), decreased blood pressure and respiratory depression.

The nicotine content of tobacco in cigarettes varies from 15-20 mg. This value is lower in low-nicotine cigarettes. Nicotine can be lethal when ingested in large amounts at one time.

Although this chemical is a highly toxic and relatively rapid-acting poison, it is not readily absorbed from the stomach upon ingestion. Vomiting, which is the normal initial response to nicotine ingestion, tends to remove most of the ingested poison before systemic absorption. The bitter taste of tobacco normally discourages the victims from further ingestion.

To avoid any untoward effects on children, parents are strongly urged to stop smoking altogether.

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