9-year-old sent to hospital after drinking 'Unicorn Milk' e-cigarette fluid
Manufacturer considers changing label, but says it was not intended to attract children
A nine-year-old girl in Fredericton was taken to hospital Monday after drinking an e-cigarette fluid called Unicorn Milk she found on her school's playground.
The Grade 5 student at École des Bâtisseurs and her friends all tasted drops from a vial of the concentrated nicotine, which is used for electronic vaping of cigarettes, said her mother, Lea L'Hoir.
The children were tempted to try the strawberry-flavoured fluid because it smelled good, and a brightly coloured unicorn decorated the container, L'Hoir told CBC News.
"They decided to taste it and after that, my daughter wasn't feeling too good," she said, adding her daughter also put some of the liquid on her hand.
L'Hoir said the school contacted her after the children brought the bottle to their teacher, who then notified the school's director.
When her daughter started complaining about nausea, chest cramps and dizziness, L'Hoir picked her up and brought her home.
At first, she thought ingesting the liquid would have been similar to eating a small piece of a cigarette, she said.
But then she Googled the effects of ingesting concentrated nicotine and called 811, the number for Tele-Care New Brunswick.
If ingested in too great amounts, concentrated nicotine can kill you, L'Hoir said.
She took her daughter to the hospital, where she was diagnosed with nicotine poisoning and released later that night.
"I didn't sleep, I didn't sleep last night," L'Hoir said. "I was completely horrified that she could have passed away, maybe if she had taken, you know, more of the bottle."
Her daughter felt better Tuesday, but L'Hoir said she wanted other parents to know about the experience. They need to be warned that their children, too, might be tempted by a sweet-smelling liquid in a bottle imprinted with a unicorn.
L'Hoir said she was shocked to see the Unicorn Milk container did not mention anything about the liquid's actual use, and information about its ingredients was in small print, she said. There was, however, a small poison symbol on the side of the vial.
Trevor Bostick, who owns New Beginnings Vape Studio in Fredericton, which also manufactures Unicorn Milk, said the company will consider changing the label in light of what happened.
He said the product was never designed to attract the attention of children. There are many older people who find candy-themed products appealing, Bostick said.
"We put a lot of thought into it," he said. "If we have to pull that because people decide that it is a draw for kids, then we'll pull it."
He said the Unicorn Milk label was launched two weeks ago in response to a popular, rainbow-coloured drink now sold at the Starbucks Coffee chain.
The vapour fluid has been a hit, Bostick said, and the company is getting calls from all over to supply it — to shops in Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan and P.E.I.
He added his company supports stricter government guidelines on labelling and vapour-fluid production.
Anthony Knight, CEO of the New Brunswick Medical Society, said it's troubling that e-vaping products might be designed and marketed to appeal to young people.
"That speaks to a need for tougher regulation and tougher oversight around how these products are marketed and that oversight rests with government," he said.
"In cases like this where there are risks to the public and unknown risks to the health of individuals … then steps need to be taken."
Health Canada doesn't regulate the labelling of vape products yet, but steps were taken to ban the sale of these products to people under 18, he said. There are also restrictions about vaping in public places, similar to other tobacco products.
A federal bill that would regulate the manufacture, sale and labelling of vaping products awaits approval in the Senate. The legislation would new restrict certain flavours that appeal to youth and insist on child-resistant packaging to help protect children from nicotine poisoning.
Could happen again, mom says
L'Hoir also called for a tough labelling law.
She said the doctor at the hospital was upset that nine-year-olds would taste something they found on the ground, L'Hoir says it could easily to happen again.
When she showed the Unicorn Milk bottle to her colleagues, their reaction was similar to her daughter's.
"They say 'What is it, is it a candy, is it good?'
"We shouldn't allow a product like that to have this type of attractive drawing. Maybe the smell is OK, but the drawing is not correct."
With files from Catherine Harrop, Elizabeth Fraser