WASHINGTON — Calls to poison centers across the country involving e-cigarettes have surged in recent years as the products gain in popularity, according to figures released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Between September 2010 and this February, the volume of calls on e-cigarettes rose nationally from about one per month to 215 per month, even as reports on conventional cigarettes showed no similar increase, the agency said. It also said the actual number of cases is probably much higher.
Public health officials say the rise is particularly troubling because more than half of the calls involve children younger than 6, who can suffer serious health consequences from liquid nicotine in e-cigarettes.
‘‘We’re tremendously concerned,’’ James Perrin, of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said. ‘‘This stuff is incredibly toxic, and it’s also not regulated in any way. . . . The public is really remarkably unaware of the serious dangers of this.’’
For years, the debate about e-cigarettes has centered on whether they provide a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes and an effective way for some smokers to wean themselves off tar-laden tobacco while still getting a nicotine fix.
That fight overlooks what health professionals say is an obvious danger made clear by Thursday’s CDC numbers: Liquid nicotine, which is heated to create e-cigarette vapors, is a highly toxic substance that is readily available on store shelves in flavors as varied as bubble gum and cherry.