Vaping and Popcorn Lung: All You Need to Know
Vaping has been the trending subject with tons of disputes, but not enough detailed scientific studies to prove some of its findings. The worry of whether e-cigarette vaping may be responsible for a lung disease commonly known as popcorn lung is a major concern. As from 2015, vaping has been in the limelight with many assumptions and some studies are still ongoing. In 2015 again, a journal by the name Environmental Health Perspective indicated that harmful substances associated with the lung disease –popcorn lung- are present in different types of vape juice flavors. Out of 51 flavored e-cigarettes sampled, about 47 contained flavoring chemicals, and out of those 39 had diacetyl substances. This shows that the problem is diacetyl, a compound that resembles butter flavor, from which this lung disease may have gotten its name.
This guide will try to cover everything in detail about vaping and popcorn long including any possible connection between the two terms.
What is Popcorn Lung?
Popularly known as popcorn lung, this newly found disease is also known as Bronchiolitis Obliterans (BO). It’s mainly caused when inhaled chemicals settle on the smallest airways within the lungs thus reducing their efficiency. The symptoms of BO may be confused with another more common condition known as the chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). It’s a combination of chronic bronchitis and emphysema that occurs in lifelong smokers. However, COPD is known to develop at a slower pace over the years, while BO can develop within months once an individual is exposed to chemicals that cause it.
It reportedly causes coughing and wheezing, as well as shortness of breath. In severe cases, the symptoms of popcorn lung may require immediate surgery for a lung transplant.
A major problem with the study of popcorn lung is that it’s impossible to diagnose the disease without doing a surgical biopsy accurately. From a myriad of research done at the flavoring centers where major cases have been isolated, it’s clear that there are chances of lung damage caused by diacetyl as well as other flavoring chemicals. However, not every individual affected by the disease showed severe permanent lung blockage.
A further study from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), revealed that the flavoring agent –diacetyl was used as an agent to give popcorn its buttery taste. Although consuming this flavoring agent was not considered harmful, researchers discovered that inhaling it would lead to the development of Popcorn Lung.
In another study conducted by experts at the School of Public Health in Harvard, revealed that diacetyl, a chemical that is responsible for causing popcorn lung was present in over 75 percent of vape flavors especially the sweet and fruit variety.
The essence of vaping is to heat and inhale the resulting vapor. The best vape juice (find more here) is considered to be diacetyl free. However, the presence of diacetyl and other additives in most varieties of vape juice was the major cause of concern.
These studies sparked many reactions from pro and anti-vaping advocates. Anti-vapors described the study as evidence that vaping is as unsafe as cigarette smoking. On the other hand, pro-vapers had a different opinion. They indicated that cigarette smoking contains high amounts of diacetyl than both e-juices and other food flavorings. But, although cigarette smoke is seen to contain diacetyl, no studies are showing that it can cause a disease like popcorn lung in smokers.
The Truth about Diacetyl
Diacetyl is a chemical compound known as a diketone. It’s used as a flavoring agent and is classified as safe to ingest. It is found in foods such as butter, sour cream, dairy, apples, honey, vinegar, candy, and even in wines such as Chardonnay. A diacetyl cousin, Acetyl propionyl (AP), also known as 2, 3- pentanedione is considered be even more dangerous.
As some vaping liquid brands use diacetyl in their vaping flavors, this has brought a new host of pro-vapors opposing any form of vaping. Although its presence is evident in some foods as described above, eating it is considered harmless, but inhaling it can be a different story where it is believed to cause respiratory illnesses such as Popcorn Lung. Based on these factors, it’s no wonder vaping has found a new list of enemies recently.
Does Vaping Cause Popcorn Lung
Whether smoking causes, BO is a useful question that is met with a lot of uncertainty. Cigarette contains a lot of diacetyl. In fact, it is said that a regular cigarette smoker can consume almost 100 times the amount of diacetyl compared to a vaper. However, there are no cases of popcorn lung in a smoker, except for those who inhaled diacetyl directly from the studies done on flavor factories.
Although there have been health concerns about vaping, most traditional smokers still choose e-cig juice as a safer alternative. Independent tobacco smokers indicate that vaping though not completely safe pose a small possibility of risks compared to normal smoking. The Public Health England noted that e-cigs are 95 percent less harmful than tobacco cigarettes.
Despite the popularity of vaping in the recent few years, there is still limited information on their potential health effect. In fact, there are no actual published findings of long-term health effects associated with vaping.
So, what do we learn from all this? Does vaping cause popcorn lung? It’s hard to know for sure. Reason being, every wake there is new research that is for and against vaping.
Despite the seriousness of popcorn lung, the studies mentioned above didn’t give a clear answer on whether vaping e-cigs with diacetyl causes BO. They just detected the presence of the above chemicals in vaporing flavors. Unfortunately, at this rate, it will still take several years before real findings emerge.
Since BO and COPD show similar symptoms, it is difficult to differentiate their real cause. However, we know that when diacetyl is inhaled, it can lead to BO. So, it would be deemed fit for vape juice producers to find ways to phase out diacetyl from their products. Doing so may protect the health of users and increase sales.
Vaping experts should also do more research on the product. But until then, advocates and activist will continue to remind smokers that vaping is an overall healthier option than tobacco smoking.
About the Author: Connor Russel is the millennial blogger specializing in lifestyle. Currently, he writes about quitting smoking and health issues.