Popcorn Lung & E-Cigs: The Truth About Diacetyl

A recent study has been gaining a lot of traction in the media regarding e-cigarettes and their potential link to respiratory illness.

The study, which was published in the journal, Environmental Health Perspectives, was conducted by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The researchers measured levels of potential hazardous flavoring chemicals in e-liquid such as diacetyl, acetyl propionyl, and acetoin. Diacetyl, especially, has been of concern for vapers, as prolonged inhalation is known to cause bronchiolitis obliterans, which is more popularly known as “popcorn lung.”

These findings spread across the newswire and social media like wildfire, with headlines such as, “E-cigarettes linked to Respiratory Disease” and “Popcorn Lung Seen in E-cigarette Smokers.” The sensational headlines more than caused a stir among the vaping community and raised concerns that vapers were in more danger when using e-cigarettes than they thought. Upon a little further investigation, however, we find that this study does not prove any actual link between e-cigs and respiratory illness. In addition if you look for the same chemicals in regular cigarette smoke you will find them, and in much greater quantity than what you see in e-cigarette vapor.

More about Diacetyl

The once thought a harmless flavoring chemical is used in several food items, primarily those with a buttery flavor like popcorn. While it is still considered generally safe to consume, over extended periods of time they have found that it is not as safe to inhale. Several workers in popcorn factories began to develop health problems, and in the end, the health professionals found that inhalation exposure to diacetyl was creating cases of bronchiolitis obliterans, thus giving the disease its more familiar moniker of “popcorn lung.”

Diacetyl in Cigarettes vs. E-Cigarettes

Diacetyl has been found present in a number of e-cigarette liquids. While this can be of concern (read more about e-liquid flavoring safety here) the majority of e-liquid manufacturers in the USA provide diacetyl free labels and assurances to make sure that this harmful flavoring chemical is not inhaled by an unsuspecting vaper. In addition, many companies even hire outside laboratories to test for these ingredients thus giving the vaper even another level of safety.

The study out of Harvard found that the average diacetyl levels of the products they tested were right around 9.0 micrograms per e-cigarette cartridge. Another study, performed a few year prior, measured the levels of diacetyl in regular cigarette smoke. They found 300 to 433 micrograms in one cigarette. That’s one cigarette alone– that means you could vape over 30 cartridges before reaching the lowest levels of diacetyl that you would find in one cigarette. Considering one cartridge lasts most people a day or longer, the exposure difference between e-cigarettes and regular cigarettes is astounding. In addition, since there are many e-liquid manufacturers that guarantee their products are diacetyl free, you can still vape and avoid inhaling this chemical, something you cannot do with regular tobacco smoke.

E Liquid IngredientsAvoiding Diacetyl in your E-Liquid

If you aren’t currently smoking cigarettes and you’re vaping an e-liquid that has a diacetyl-free assurance, then anything like popcorn lung shouldn’t even be a worry. Most e-liquid makers in the USA are already aware of the diacetyl concern and produce safe e-liquid that is absent of this potentially harmful flavoring chemical. Look for a brand that guarantees there is no diacetyl. Many are independently tested and can be considered safe and free of harmful chemical flavorings.

Our Top 3 “Diacetyl-Free” E-Juice Vendors: diacetyl free ejuicevv-150 kj-150 

The truth is, while the headlines are pretending they are breaking some big story with this study, they are really only causing unnecessary panic over something that the industry as a whole has already addressed. While there are still companies out there that are producing substandard e-liquid, most companies have not only ensured their products are free of these chemicals, but they have also developed a set of checks and balances, including labeling, independent laboratory testing, and careful manufacturing procedures, to ensure the customer is getting a safe product. If you are an educated consumer you will have no problem keeping the diacetyl out of your life, especially once you’ve kicked that nasty cigarette pack to the curb!


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