A recent study led by Joseph G. Allen, Assistant Professor of Exposure Assessment Science at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, found the effect of smoking e-cigarettes, or “vaping,” is strikingly similar to the way employees of a Missouri microwave popcorn facility were injured. The condition, caused by long-term exposure to the flavoring agent diacetyl, was dubbed “popcorn lung.”
“The heating, vaporization, and subsequent inhalation of these flavoring chemicals in e-cigarettes makes an exposure pathway for these flavorings that has significant similarities to those of the workers at the microwave popcorn facilities,” the report reads.
In 2000, eight workers at a microwave popcorn plant were diagnosed with obliterative bronchiolitis, a serious lung disease that is only curable by lung transplant. The symptoms are similar to those of COPD, with coughing and difficulty breathing.
Researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health suspect the same chemicals, which are used in flavored e-cigarettes and e-cigarette liquids, may pose similar dangers to our health.
In this study, 51 e-cigarette flavors were chosen from leading e-cigarette manufacturers to be sampled and tested. Diacetyl was found in 39 of the 51 flavors, 2,3-pentanedione (a diacetyl substitute) was found in 23 of the 51, and acetoin (a diacetyl substitute that is believed to convert itself to diacetyl), was found in 46 of the 51 flavors.
Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has placed regulations on diacetyl and 2,3 pentanedione exposure in the workplace, there is no regulation for the chemical exposure to the general public. This includes children and young people, who are attracted to the flavorings in vaping liquids.
“Because of the associations between diacetyl and bronchiolitis obliterans and other severe respiratory diseases among workers inhaling heated vapors containing diacetyl,” the study report reads, “urgent action is recommended to further evaluate the extent of this new exposure to diacetyl and related flavoring compounds in e-cigarettes.”