I continue to blog on this area because I still do not think enough people realize the side effects of e-cigarettes and chemical flavorings. They truly thing they are doing the right thing and being healthy for trading cigarettes for e-cigarettes. Turns out – they might be wrong. According to a new study done by a group of Harvard scientists, nicotine might not be the only health hazard tied to e-cigarettes. The study indicates a flavoring chemical found in e-cigarettes can cause a pretty gross lung disease. Its formal name is bronchiolitis obliterans. Its nickname is “popcorn lung.” It’s an irreversible respiratory condition that causes the tiny air sacs in the lungs to become scarred.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the chemical flavoring industry have warned workers about diacetyl because of the association between inhaling the chemical and the debilitating respiratory disease bronchiolitis obliterans, colloquially known as “popcorn lung” because it first appeared in workers who inhaled artificial butter flavor in microwave popcorn processing facilities. “Recognition of the hazards associated with inhaling flavoring chemicals started with ‘popcorn lung’ over a decade ago. However, diacetyl and other related flavoring chemicals are used in many other flavors beyond butter-flavored popcorn, including fruit flavors, alcohol flavors, and, we learned in our study, candy-flavored e-cigarettes,” said lead author Joseph Allen, assistant professor of exposure assessment sciences.
Bronchiolitis obliterans was originally discovered in 2000 after employees at a Missouri factory inhaled butter flavoring for microwave popcorn on a daily basis. Workers developed several symptoms including wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath. Experts later learned the butter flavor contained a chemical called diacetyl. That chemical, and two other harmful compounds, were found in 75 percent of the e-cigarette flavored liquids studied in this project. The scientists tested 51 types of flavored e-cigarettes and liquids by placing each into a sealed chamber attached to a device that drew air through the e-cig for eight seconds at a time with a resting period of 15 or 30 seconds between each draw. After that, the air stream was analyzed. Since many states still sell e-cigs to minors, researchers purposefully tested flavors “with [the] potential appeal to young people such as cotton candy, Fruit Squirts and cupcake.” Forty-seven of the 51 flavors tested contained at least one of the potentially harmful chemical flavoring.
“Since most of the health concerns about e-cigarettes have focused on nicotine, there is still much we do not know about e-cigarettes. In addition to containing varying levels of the addictive substance nicotine, they also contain other cancer-causing chemicals, such as formaldehyde, and as our study shows, flavoring chemicals that can cause lung damage,” said study co-author David Christiani, Elkan Blout Professor of Environmental Genetics.
The study was published online recently in Environmental Health Perspectives.