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Liquid Nicotine Companies Co-Opt Popular Candy and Cereal Brands to Target Kids

The efforts of the traditional tobacco industry to market cigarettes to kids has been well documented. In the 1960s and ’70s, tobacco companies advertised during popular kids shows like The Flintstones, put cigarette-shaped sweets on the market, and even created the character Joe Camel to appeal to youth. Now cigarette advertising is heavily regulated by government agencies.

But with the rise of e-cigarettes comes a new way to entice kids with nicotine, and companies are jumping at the chance, illegally branding their wares with the same names, packaging, logos, and colors as popular candy and children’s cereal brands such as Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Hershey’s.

While conventional cigarettes pose a long-term health risk, the liquid nicotine used in e-cigarettes is incredibly dangerous to young kids: A mere 1 teaspoon of concentrated liquid nicotine can prove to be fatal when ingested by toddlers and small children.

A newly released report from the bipartisan child welfare lobbying group First Focus found that poison control centers reported a 1,296 percent increase in exposure to liquid nicotine from 2011 to 2014, with more than half of those incidents involving children under the age of 6.

And the five brand names most commonly used by unregulated liquid nicotine manufacturers, the report found, were Skittles, Swedish Fish, Juicy Fruit, Jolly Rancher, and SweeTarts.

The 2014 death of 18-month-old Eli James Hotaling, a toddler living in upstate New York, was the first recorded death of a child after accidentally swallowing the toxic ingredients used to refill e-cigarettes, according to Safe Kids Worldwide. Eli began convulsing and was pronounced dead at his local emergency room due to cardiac arrhythmia induced by nicotine ingestion.

“The lack of federal regulation of e-cigarettes has created a ‘Wild West’ where children’s favorite cereal spokescharacters are now selling them tobacco,” says First Focus president Bruce Lesley. “The fact that so many e-cigarette retailers have gotten away with this proves that the federal government isn’t paying enough attention.”

And it’s not only younger children who are at risk. The CDC reports that e-cigarette use among middle and high school students tripled from 2013 to 2014. Use of e-cigarettes among high school students was found to have increased in that timespan from 4.5 percent to 13.4 percent, translating to a rise from approximately 660,000 to 2 million students. During the same period, the rate of use for middle school students tripled from 1.1 percent to 3.9 percent — an increase from approximately 120,000 to 450,000 students.

With older children using e-cigarettes at skyrocketing rates, younger children are more likely to come across liquid nicotine at home. Liquid nicotine is easily purchased online, marketed as candy, and packaged to look as such too.

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