Have you ever heard of popcorn lung? The formal name for this rare disease is obliterative bronchiolitis. In 2000 eight workers from a microwave popcorn factory reported having lung issues. The CDC reported that “All eight had a respiratory illness resembling bronchiolitis obliterans with symptoms of cough and dyspnea on exertion, had worked at the same popcorn factory.” Of the eight patients reported, four were mixers and four were microwave-packaging workers. The culprit for this respiratory issue was found to be a chemical called Diacetyl. This is used as a key ingredient in butter popcorn flavoring. In the factory, this ingredient had become airborne and was being inhaled by the workers who came near it over an extended period of time. It has gained some infamy in the vaping community because some brands in the past used this as an ingredient for flavoring.
Diacetyl is a chemical compound that tastes extremely buttery and occurs naturally after the process of fermentation. Lung.org explains that inhaling large amounts of diacetyl can hurt the small airways in the lungs, called bronchioles. This thickens the bronchioles, making the passages more narrow. You can imagine this might make it harder to breathe. The symptoms for a person with this condition are coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. To further prove this point, the National Center for Biotechnology Information found that exposure to diacetyl does cause damage to airways. So the scientific community backs up the idea that inhalation of this chemical, especially in large amounts, can be harmful to the lungs. In a 2016 study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, it found that “this diagnosis has been documented in a variety of exposures, including fumes from flavoring plants, smoke from burn pits, and environmental sulfur gas.” These are the documented cases of popcorn lung.
Here is where we tie this to the vape industry. A study conducted by the Department of Environmental Toxicology at UC Davis found that combustible cigarettes contain diacetyl. Those who smoke traditional cigarettes, which contain much more diacetyl than e-liquid ever did, did not get popcorn lung either. Assuming that the e-liquid actually contains diacetyl, this chemical is yet to be linked with the disease known as popcorn lung. A 2014 study published in Critical Reviews in Toxicology stated, “smoking has not been shown to be a risk factor for bronchiolitis obliterans.” The individuals who developed issues in 2000 were exposed to the chemical in large amounts in a factory or environmental setting. They were not smoking. Smoking combustible cigarettes has a plethora of consequences, but obliterative bronchiolitis aka popcorn lung is not yet proven to be one. This means that an e-cigarette user is even better off. Cancer Research UK added that “There’s no good evidence that e-cigarettes could cause the lung condition called popcorn lung. There have been no cases of popcorn lung reported in people who use e-cigarettes.”
In the past, tests were done on various e-liquid flavors and there were amounts of diacetyl found in them. In general, a majority of e-liquid flavors are leaving this ingredient out completely.
Ultimately, there is little to no evidence that using e-cigarettes will cause lung issues in relation to popcorn lung. It was a problem in a microwave popcorn factory almost 20 years ago, but has not been linked to e-cigs. If you have any comments or questions, leave us a comment!
Harvard - https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/hsph-in-the-news/e-cigs-pack-harmful-punch/
CDC - https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5116a2.htm
CDC - https://www.lung.org/about-us/blog/2016/07/popcorn-lung-risk-ecigs.html
NCBI - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/
Online LIbrary - https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1002/tox.20153
NCBI - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24635357
Cancer Research UK - https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/causes-of-cancer/cancer-controversies/does-vaping-cause-popcorn-lung