According to a Harvard study, a chemical, diacetyl, may cause a condition called Popcorn Lung in e-cigarette users. Popcorn lung was first observed in the early 2000s when workers at a microwave popcorn factory were sickened by breathing the chemical, used because of its buttery flavor.
Popcorn lung in e-cigarette users
E-cigarettes come in many flavors, making them appealing to teenagers as well as adults. Most users think these are a healthy substitute for smoking cigarettes. Unfortunately, they are misguided. The same chemical, diacetyl, that produced irreversible bronchiolitis obliterans and even death to workers in popcorn factories, is present in many of the flavored ‘juices’ of e-cigarettes.
Harvard researchers found that 39 of 51 e-cigarette brands contained diacetyl and, of the two other harmful chemicals present, 23 included 2,3 pentanedione and 46 contained acetoin. In total, approximately 92 percent of e-cigarettes tested had at least one of the three chemicals.
What is popcorn lung?
The scientific disease name, bronchiolitis obliterans, is actually a scarring of the lungs’ small air sacs. This scarring thickens and narrows the airways. Though the common disease name, popcorn lung, sounds harmless, it definitely is not. The devastating results are coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath – similar symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) – and can lead to death.
Why is this legal?
Once the effects on popcorn workers were discovered, diacetyl was removed from popcorn products. However, until the May 5th announcement by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that they will extend their oversight on tobacco products to include e-cigarettes, there was no FDA oversight. This announcement means that in August key provisions of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act on sales, marketing, and manufacturing of e-cigarettes will be enforced, but there is a caveat. For three years manufacturers can test their products and complete FDA applications for review while their products can remain in the market.
The 2015 Harvard study concluded, “Because of the associations between diacetyl and bronchiolitis obliterans and other severe respiratory diseases observed in workers, urgent action is recommended to further evaluate this potentially widespread exposure via flavored e-cigarettes.”
While there are groups wanting more proof that there is actual danger, the American Lung Association thinks the danger is real, three years is too long, and the FDA should quickly require removing diacetyl and all other harmful chemicals from e-cigarettes.
Even if you are still undecided about the effects of diacetyl in vaping, there are many other additives in e-cigarettes that are harmful, including nicotine, formaldehyde, carbonyl compounds, metals, propylene glycol, glycerol, fine particulate matter, and flavoring chemicals.