In 2000, workers in a microwave popcorn factory became ill by breathing in a chemical called diacetyl an additive in foods such as popcorn, caramel and some dairy products. Diacetyl was subsequently linked to the deaths of many workers and hundreds of cases of bronchiolitis obliterans, which is a very serious and irreversible lung disease. Following this discovery the major popcorn manufacturers and other food companies removed the chemical diacetyl from all of their products, but lots of people are still being exposed to diacetyl via e-cigarette vapor.
When inhaled diacetyl causes a serious condition called bronchiolitis obliterans otherwise known as “popcorn lung” which is scarring of the small air sacs inside the lungs which results in thickening which narrows the airways. Popcorn lung is a very serious lung disease that causes coughing and shortness of breath. Symptoms of popcorn lung are similar to the symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Despite the fact that diacetyl causes bronchiolitis obliterans (popcorn lung), the chemical can still be found in many e-cigarette liquids’ flavors. It is added to the liquids by some manufacturers who use flavorings like vanilla, maple, coconut amoung others. So even though the dangers of diacetyl are well known and the chemical was removed from food products due to it causing this devastating lung disease among food factory workers, e-cigarette users / vapers are now inhaling this harmful chemical directly into their lungs. Recent research has found that 38 of 51 e-cigarette brands contained the chemical diacetyl. The study which was undertaken by Harvard also found two other harmful chemicals, pentanedione and acetoin which was present in 46 of the 51 flavors they tested.
Until recently there has been no official oversight of e-cigarettes. This is an urgent and important matter for public health due to the rise in popularity of e-cigarettes, especially amoung the youth. It is imperative that diacetyl and other harmful chemicals are removed from all e-cigarette liquids.