Vaping is often framed as being dangerous for various reasons. The worry that e-cigarette vaping may be responsible for the lung disease called popcorn lung is one of those reasons. This article tells you all you need to know about vaping and popcorn lung and any possible connection between the two.
What is Popcorn Lung?
Popcorn lung (bronchiolitis obliterans) is a pulmonary disease that causes scarring and inflammation in the tiny airways (bronchioles) of the lungs. This can lead to coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. This disease is incurable and irreversible but it can be managed with medication and behavioral changes. In the most extreme cases, a lung transplant may be required.
What causes Popcorn Lung?
The inhalation of diacetyl is thought to be the main cause of popcorn lung. Diacetyl is a flavoring used in many types of food to mimic the taste of butter. The first reported cases of popcorn lung were of factory workers at a popcorn plant who developed the condition.
It was believed that inhaling diacetyl was the cause, which is why the disease is sometimes called popcorn lung. Diacetyl is safe to ingest and has been cleared by the FDA as being safe for consumption, it is the inhalation of diacetyl that is thought to be harmful.
Popcorn lung and E-cigarettes
The concern over e-cigarettes and popcorn lung is that diacetyl is used in some flavors of e-liquids. This has raised concerns that e-cigarette vaping might end up causing popcorn lung in some users. While diacetyl is present in some e-liquids, it is also present in traditional tobacco cigarettes in much higher concentrations.
The average daily intake of diacetyl by a traditional pack a day (20 cigarettes) smoker is 6718 micrograms. The diacetyl intake of a comparable e-cig user is only 9 micrograms. This means that smokers are exposed to 750 times more diacetyl than e-cig users.
The Popcorn Lung Vaping Myth
The popcorn lung vaping myth is that e-cig users could contract it even though it has never been diagnosed in smokers. No e-cig user has ever been diagnosed with popcorn lung even though e-cigarettes have been in circulation for over a decade. Smoking does cause COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), a condition with symptoms similar to popcorn lung.
Since they have similar symptoms, it is possible that some smokers who are thought to suffer from COPD might actually have popcorn lung instead. The main difference between the two conditions is that COPD develops over years while popcorn lung can take between two weeks and two months to develop.
Is Vaping Safer than Smoking?
More research needs to be done before a verdict can be definitively rendered on the safety of e-cigarettes. However, they are less dangerous than regular cigarettes and are a viable alternative for smokers who are not ready to quit but desire a less harmful alternative. It is the combustion of the cigarette that causes toxins and carcinogens to be released, since no combustion occurs during vaping, no harmful toxins are released.
You can visit our e-liquid vaping page for a more detailed look at e-liquids, e-cigarettes, and how vaping compares to smoking.
The Truth about Diacetyl
While diacetyl is the main suspect in the cause of popcorn lung, its responsibility has not been decisively verified. The reason is that more research needs to be done to verify causal links between diacetyl inhalation and popcorn lung. There is one infamous case of someone who developed popcorn lung after eating 2 bags of popcorn per day for 10 years. He successfully won a lawsuit against the company that makes the brand of popcorn he used.
The use of diacetyl has been reduced or removed in various products because of concerns that it can cause popcorn lung.
Should Vapers Worry about getting Popcorn Lung
The scientific evidence so far shows that the risk of e-cig users contracting popcorn lung is slim to none because of the low amounts of diacetyl present in e-liquids. If this is still a concern then you can always purchase e-liquids that do not contain diacetyl. That makes up the majority of e-liquids since most brands have removed diacetyl from their products.
Despite the seriousness of popcorn lung, vapers should not worry about developing that condition. It is still unverified that diacetyl is the cause of popcorn lung and if it is, it is present in such low amounts in e-liquids that any harmful exposure is unlikely.
Considering that most e-juice manufacturers have ceased putting diacetyl in their products, the risk of any e-cig user getting popcorn lung is extremely low. So based on the current evidence, it is unlikely that you will get popcorn lung from e-cigs. If you need some e-cig recommendations then check out our list of the Best e-cigs.