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Unique danger to e-cigarettes

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KANSAS CITY, KS (KCTV) -

Some call them the "safe alternative" to smoking, but they come with a danger that's put some people in the hospital.

We're talking about electronic, or e-cigarettes.

They're made to look like the real thing, but instead of burning a smoke, users inhale a vapor, then refill them with liquids that often come in bright colors and flavors, like strawberry and bubble gum.

Experts at the University of Kansas Hospital say the refills are just too attractive to children and swallowing them can be dangerous.

In a smoke-filled room on Broadway Street in Sinbad's Hookah Lounge, friends shared a hookah Thursday afternoon and, with a closer look, you could see a smaller nicotine doser passing around too: an e-cigarette.

"They taste better, I feel like they're better for you. Smoking regular cigarettes, you're constantly coughing," said Dillon Allmon.

E-cig smoker Lizzie Lake added, "You can put different kinds of juices in them, some have flavor."

But those juices, the e-cigarette refills, are causing problems of their own. They each come with a different level of nicotine, and sometimes people don't realize the potency.

"Some are pretty low, but some can be really high, high enough that in those bottles there's enough to kill children and some there's enough to kill adults, if you were to absorb all of it," said Dr. Stephen Thornton, medical director at the University of Kansas Hospital's Poison Control Center.

It's a problem toxicologists like Thornton have started tracking carefully. The University of Kansas Hospital Poison Control Center took 24 calls of e-cigarette poisoning for the whole state from 2013 through now. Eleven of those were children. One adult died from injecting the refill liquid.

The Missouri Poison Center has tracked 64 e-cigarette poisonings in that same time. Twenty-nine were young children.

Kids are winding up with nausea and vomiting after swallowing the refill liquid.

"Sometimes colored solutions that are flavored, that are in little bottles, that aren't necessarily child-proof," Thornton said.

And he said they're not regulated yet by the FDA, so it's not entirely clear what's in them.

That's leading to some more questions back at Sinbad's Hookah Lounge.

"I could definitely see how that could make someone sick because if you refill it too much and it gets on the mouthpiece, it burns your mouth from the nicotine," Lake said, though she's not ready to blow them off just yet.

The Federal Drug Administration is considering new e-cigarette regulations that could limit the concentrations of nicotine in refills, and make sure the bottles are child-proof. Until then, be aware of how powerful they can be and keep them away from children.

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