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What is nicotine and what forms of nicotine are available?

What happens if my child accidentally eats nicotine?

What happens if I take too much nicotine?

What treatments are available for nicotine poisoning?

What is nicotine and what forms of nicotine are available?

Nicotine is derived from the tobacco plant. The primary products that contain nicotine are tobacco-containing products such as cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco, and chewing tobacco. There are some nicotine containing smoking cessation products such as patches and gums. In addition, electronic cigarettes or “E-cigarettes”, contain purified nicotine and not tobacco and are increasing in popularity. Unlike tobacco products and the smoking cessation aids, liquid nicotine is not regulated by FDA or another federal agency (although some states have regulations).


            Cigarettes: The amount of nicotine contained in a single cigarette varies. Only a fraction of the nicotine is inhaled since most of it goes off as side-stream smoke in the typical smoker. Nicotine toxicity from smoking is further limited because the effects of inhaled nicotine occur rapidly (within seconds), limiting further intake. Nicotine toxicity can occur through the ingestion of cigarettes or butts, typically eaten by young children, in which case a large amount of nicotine can be absorbed.


            Chewing tobacco: Chewing tobacco is also called smokeless tobacco, or “dip.” The nicotine is absorbed through the oral surface. The nicotine content can be as high as that of “low nicotine cigarettes.” Chewing tobacco is associated with a very high risk of cancers in the mouth and throat.


            Nicotine gum: Nicotine gums are used as an aide to smoking cessation. Gum contains a small amount of nicotine and raises the nicotine concentration in the body slower than cigarette smoking. Excess use of the gum is limited by adverse effects.


            Nicotine patches: These patches contain a large amount of nicotine in order to allow the drug to be delivered continuously for many hours daily. If the patch is bitten and ingested, nicotine may leak and severe toxicity may occur.


            E-cigarettes: This is a battery-powered device that vaporizes liquid nicotine, sometimes called “e-liquid” or “e-juice.” The nicotine in these preparations is often highly concentrated, and may be mixed with a flavoring agent such as blueberry, bubble gum, or vanilla. The containers range from the size of an eye-drop bottle to a gallon container, and often have designs that are appealing to a child, leading to concerns that children will be poisoned by these products. In addition, there are concerns that the simplicity and easy availability of these products may be a pathway to nicotine addiction for non-smokers. Its role in smoking cessation is currently unclear but likely could be beneficial.

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What happens if my child accidentally eats nicotine?

Exposures to low doses of nicotine, well less than a cigarette or a few drops of e-liquid, causes nausea, tremor, rapid heart rate, and high blood pressure. Severe nicotine poisoning causes vomiting, confusion, irregular heart rate, seizures, and respiratory failure. Death may occur.

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What happens if I take too much nicotine?

Nicotine poisoning can occur in children and adults. Symptoms of nicotine toxicity from tobacco products usually begin within 15 minutes of exposure, depending on the route of administration. If you develop only minor symptoms, recovery is relatively quick.

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What treatments are available for nicotine poisoning?

There is no specific antidote for nicotine toxicity, so treatment can be complicated and is focused on treating the symptoms that occur individually with medications. 


Sources of nicotine


Content (mg)

1 whole cigarette*


1 cigarette butt


1 cigar*


1 gram chewing tobacco


1 piece nicotine gum


1 nicotine patch**


1 vial (5ml) e-juice


*when used properly only a fraction (5-20%) of the nicotine is absorbed

**nicotine is slowly absorbed through the skin, and much of it remains in the patch at the end of use.


Ingestion of a toxic dose of nicotine





Low toxic dose (one tenth of a cigarette in children,

Half to 1 whole cigarette in adults)

15-90 min

Tremor, nausea, increase in heart rate/blood pressure/respiratory rate, mental alertness, euphoria

High toxic dose (one third -1 whole cigarette in children,

1-3 whole cigarettes in adults)

Within minutes- 1 hour

Nausea/vomiting/diarrhea, increase in heart rate/blood pressure/respiratory rate, headache, dizziness, confusion, seizures.

30 min to 4 hours

Low blood pressure, slow heart rate, lethargy, weakness, paralysis

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Created by Mai Takematsu, MD. These answers are provided by volunteer medical toxicologists for the purpose of public education, and do not necessarily represent the policies or positions of the American College of Medical Toxicology.

All data and information provided in this FAQ is for informational purposes only. The American College of Medical Toxicology makes no representations as to accuracy, completeness, currentness, suitability, or validity of the content of the FAQ and will not be liable for any errors or omissions in this information or any losses, injuries, or damages arising from its display or use.