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| Chaffin Luhana LLP

So-called “popcorn lung” is a serious lung disease that causes inflammation and scarring in the airways and eventually leads to permanent lung damage. The disease was so-named because back in the 1990s, an abnormally large number of microwave popcorn factory workers were diagnosed with “bronchiolitis obliterans,” a serious and irreversible lung disease.

Investigators later discovered that the disease was linked to “diacetyl,” a buttery-flavored chemical used in foods like microwave popcorn. The workers had inhaled it over a long period of time, and it caused what is now called “popcorn lung.”

The American Lung Association (ALA) states that e-cigarettes now pose a similar risk of popcorn lung for users. A recent study also shows that the devices could pose a hazard to a developing embryo and cause cranial defects.

Lung-Damaging Diacetyl Found in Flavored E-Cigarettes

The ALA states that diacetyl is found in many e-cigarette flavors. It’s added to the e-juice liquid found in these products by manufacturers to complement flavors like vanilla, maple, coconut, and more. After the chemical was connected to popcorn lung in microwave popcorn factories, it was removed from this food product, but it is still found in some e-cigarette solutions.

In a 2015 study, researchers found diacetyl in more than 75 percent of the 51 types of flavored e-cigarettes and refill liquids tested, along with two other potentially harmful related compounds. Among the flavors that contained the chemicals were Cotton Candy, Fruit Squirts, Cupcake, and others meant to appeal to young users.

It would seem that using an e-cigarette would result in a much lower exposure to diacetyl than working for years in a factory where the chemical is consistently present in the air. But the e-cigarette solutions contain other chemicals and flavorings as well that have not been thoroughly tested for safety when inhaled.

Study Shows E-Cigarettes Can Cause Facial Defects

Many women of reproductive age have switched from regular cigarettes to e-cigarettes, believing them to be safer. Though e-cigarettes don’t contain the tar ingredients found in regular cigarettes, research has shown that they can still be dangerous, particularly for pregnant women.

For the new study, researchers tested the effects of several e-cigarette liquids in an in vivo craniofacial model, as well as in mammal cell lines. They found that exposure to e-cigarette liquids during embryonic development induced “a wide variety of defects, including median facial clefts and midface hypoplasia.” They did some further tests, and discovered that nicotine was not the main factor causing these defects, but that it could exacerbate the effects of the other liquids in the e-cigarettes. They also found that the more chemicals in the liquids, the worse the effects.

The researchers noted that theirs was the first study to show that e-cigarettes could pose a hazard to a developing embryo, and recommended more studies and additional regulation of the products.

Though some of the liquids in these products may be approved food flavorings, that doesn’t mean they’re safe to inhale. The FDA recognizes diacetyl, for example, as “generally safe to eat,” yet it can cause a serious and incurable lung disease in those who inhaled it.


  1. Gravatar for Jason

    Cigarettes contain up to and possibly more than 10 times the amount of Diacetyl (not the only compound in cigarettes that can cause popcorn lung) than E-Cigarettes.

    Articles like this that vomit information about how bad e-cigarettes are. Would be nice to see an article that states, even with these possible issues, it is still a safer alternative than smoking a cigarette.

    The media is scaring people back into the lethal embrace of smoking.

  2. Gravatar for Chris

    The first study has been widely discredited. Popcorn lung has never been diagnosed in a tobacco cigarette smoker (despite vastly higher levels of diacetyl in tobacco smoke than in e-cigarette vapor). And diacetyl has been removed from almost all e-liquids. Tobacco cigarettes, not so much…

    The second study showed that you should not soak 2-cell African Clawed Frog embryos in a solution that contains e-cigarette aerosol until they become tadpoles. Frogs shouldn’t vape, and don’t soak your embryos in anything!

    Good job frightening people back to smoking though!

  3. Gravatar for Mark Stave
    Mark Stave

    What horrible journalism. Smoker exposure to diacetyl is at least 850% higher than even the worst exposure from vaping ( And since when are African Toads mammals? Try spending 15 minutes reviewing google scholar before you write anymore crap posing as accurate.

  4. Gravatar for Jonathan

    This is really scary. I hope that these studies should be validated because it concerns a thousands of e-cigarette users worldwide.

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