In Chicago last month 16 elementary school children were taken to local hospitals with a sudden illness. The children were 9- and 10-year olds who began vomiting after eating “mints” given to them by a classmate. It was later found that these “mints” were actually nicotine replacement lozenges, called NiQuitin Minis. NiQuitin is a product from the United Kingdom that is sold online. Nicorette, which is made in the US, has a similar product. These are used by people who want to stop smoking. The classmate had found the lozenges at home and brought them to school to share.
These lozenges look very similar to candy breath mints like Tic Tac. The size and shape of the container is similar to other breath mints, and the container does not have a child-resistant cap.
You can see why children might assume that the “mints” were candy. Fortunately, none of the children were seriously hurt.
People who use these products often carry them in their purse, have them in their car or desk drawer, or leave them out on the counter for easy access. Instead of reaching for a cigarette, they can reach for the medicine. But this also places the medicine within a child’s reach. Overdoses of these products can cause an irregular heartbeat, breathing difficulties, and, in some cases, death.
In New Zealand, the National Poison Centre reported a steady increase in the number of calls about children exposed to these lozenges. They reported 5 calls in 2004, 27 calls in 2009, and 49 calls in 2010. They have since issued a warning to remind parents to treat these products like medicine. All nicotine-replacement medicines should be kept up and away and out of reach of children.
In the US, National Poison Prevention Week is March 17-23, 2013. This story helps emphasize the importance of promoting medication safety in your home and community.
Here are some recommendations to prevent children from being exposed to nicotine-replacement medicines:
- Don’t refer to nicotine-replacement medicines as candy.
- Keep all nicotine-replacement products up and away and out of reach of children (www.upandaway.org).
- Buy products that have child-resistant packaging and use it. (Remember, child-resistant does not mean child-proof.)
- Secure purses, diaper bags, and suitcases that may contain the nicotine-replacement medicine. Be aware of products that visitors may bring into your home.
- Don’t leave any medicine unattended while answering the door or phone.
- Teach children never to take medicine unless an adult gives it to them. Many poisons look like food or drink. They should ask an adult before taking candy, food, and drinks from other children.