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News Stories

What is Popcorn Lung?

There is one phrase that keeps coming up over and over in the media as we become more aware of vape-related illnesses – popcorn lung. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to track the thousands of vape-related illnesses and dozens of deaths, the public is struggling to understand what is going on.

The American Lung Association (ALA) has been investigating a link between the use of e-cigarettes and lung illnesses for years.

The basics of popcorn lung

Popcorn lung is technically called bronchitis obliterans) is caused by a chemical called diacetyl. The ALA says that the term “popcorn lung” comes from diacetyl’s butter flavoring (this chemical was previously used to make microwave popcorn, but it made consumers sick when the breathed it in).

When consumers inhale diacetyl, is causes scarring of the tiny air sacs in the lungs. This results in a thickening and narrowing of the airways, according to the ALA. Symptoms of popcorn lung include:

  • shortness of breath
  • a dry cough
  • fatigue
  • wheezing

Before this product was removed from consumer products, it was linked to thousands of illnesses and hundreds of deaths.

There is no known treatment for popcorn lung, though the symptoms can be managed through the use of antibiotics and immunosuppressive drugs. For severe cases of popcorn lung, a lung transplant may be recommended.

Does vaping cause popcorn lung?

According to a study in Environmental Health Perspectives, diacetyl has been a common ingredient in vaping juices. The report, first published in 2016, tested 51 flavored e-cigarette vape liquids and found diacetyl in 39 of them.

The study also showed that there were two other chemicals present in nearly half of the e-cigarette flavors they tested that are just as harmful and have the same effects as diacetyl. The chemical is made to complement flavors such as maple, coconut, vanilla, and more.

The presence of diacetyl and other similarly harmful chemicals inside vape products should not surprise anyone. In the past, there were many chemicals in traditional cigarettes that caused serious health issues for consumers. There is a reason to suspect that non-regulated products like e-cigarettes also have chemicals that we do not know about that could cause severe health complications.

As we have seen over the last few months in the US, vaping is something to be concerned about. The CDC has recommended that nobody use e-cigarette until regulators better understand the full health risks posed by the products. This may take a while. The US Food and Drug Administration has regulatory authority over e-cigarette products but has continually delayed the date for which these companies must submit their products for testing and approval. Right now, the deadline is in mid-2020. Until then, companies can continue to sell e-cigarette products, unchecked and uninspected.

Will there be accountability?

The chemical diacetyl was removed from products because it caused consumers and workers devastating harm when it was used in food products. Now, that same chemical is being inhaled directly into the lungs of consumers. There is no warning on an e-cigarette or vape box about “popcorn lung.”

Will the e-cigarette companies be made to answer for using dangerous chemicals like this and not warning consumers one day? As regulators begin to crack down and the health risks become known, we may begin to see more lawsuits come forward.