Harvard Study Finds Link Between E-Cigarettes and Popcorn Lung Disease

Electronic cigarettes, also called e-cigs or e-cigarettes, have been touted as a safe alternative to tobacco cigarettes since they came onto the market in 2004. However, new research from the Harvard School of Public Health suggests that e-cigarettes may be linked to an incurable condition called “popcorn lung.”

Although people can be seen “vaping” (smoking e-cigarettes) everywhere these days, there is a troubling lack of data on their potential negative health effects. E-cigarettes are currently unregulated by the U.S. government. Lawmakers have been pushing the FDA to look into regulating the use of diacetyl, the dangerous flavoring chemical in some e-cigarettes that has been found to cause popcorn lung. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a proposed rule to regulate e-cigarettes under its authority to regulate tobacco and nicotine-containing products.

In 2001, reports started surfacing about a mysterious illness affecting workers in microwave popcorn factories. Large numbers of these factory workers were complaining to their doctors about wheezing and shortness of breath. Doctors found that they had permanent scarring of their lung tissue, which caused small airways to become narrowed, making breathing difficult. Some cases were so severe that the patients required complete lung transplants.

In response to these reports, the federal government began investigating the cause of the condition, and discovered that these irreversible breathing problems were exclusive to factory workers who had inhaled artificial butter while working in popcorn factories. Medical professionals termed the illness bronchiolitis obliterans, but it is commonly referred to as “popcorn lung” because of the factories where it originated.

According to researchers at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, diacetyl, the chemical responsible for popcorn lung, also exists in more than 75 percent of flavored electronic cigarettes and refill cartridges.

Lead author of the study and Assistant Professor of Exposure Assessment Sciences, Joseph Allen, tested 51 types of flavored e-cigarettes and refill cartridges sold by leading e-cig brands. The study tested not only for diacetyl, but also for acetoin and 2,3-pentanedione, other flavoring chemicals that are believed to pose respiratory problems when inhaled. At least one of these chemicals was detected in 47 out of 51 of the flavors tested by Allen and his team.

David Christiani, co-author of the study and the Elkan Blout Professor of Environmental Genetics at Harvard, has warned that since e-cigarettes came onto the market, safety concerns have been focused on the fact that they contain nicotine. But very little is known about the effects of other cancer-causing chemicals they contain, such as formaldehyde.

Until e-cigs are regulated, users are advised to learn as much about their potential safety risks as possible. Many e-cig companies disclose whether their products contain diacetyl, formaldehyde, or other irritants on their website, specifically on the FAQ, about, safety or health pages.

New Jersey Products Liability Lawyers at Shebell & Shebell Represent Consumers Harmed By E-Cigarettes

Our attorneys have over eight decades of experience helping victims injured by dangerous products. We represent clients throughout New Jersey, including Monmouth County, Middlesex County, and Ocean County, including Howell, Freehold, Middletown, Shrewsbury, Wall, Union Beach and Neptune. If you suspect that you have a health condition that was caused by e-cigarettes, call us at 732-532-2011 or contact us online for a free consultation.