‘Popcorn lung’ seen in e-cigarette smokers

‘Popcorn lung’ seen in e-cigarette smokers

7:03 AM, 9th December 2015
‘Popcorn lung’ seen in e-cigarette smokers
Chemicals that create the various flavours in e-cigarettes are being linked to severe respiratory disease. © Flickr/Creative Commons

CAMBRIDGE, US: Diacetyl, flavouring chemical linked to cases of severe respiratory disease, was found in more than 75 percent of flavoured electronic cigarettes and refill liquids tested by researchers at Harvard Chan School of Public Health.

Two other related, potentially harmful compounds were also found in many of the tested flavours, which included varieties with potential appeal to young people such as cotton candy, fruit squirts and cupcake.

The study was published online in Environmental Health Perspectives.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the flavouring 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 flavour in microwave popcorn processing facilities.

“Recognition of the hazards associated with inhaling flavouring chemicals started with ‘popcorn lung’ over a decade ago. However, diacetyl and other related flavouring chemicals are used in many other flavours beyond butter-flavoured popcorn, including fruit flavours, alcohol flavours, and, we learned in our study, candy-flavoured e-cigarettes,” said Joseph Allen, assistant professor of exposure assessment sciences and lead author of the research.

There are currently more than 7,000 varieties of flavoured e-cigarettes and e-juice (nicotine-containing liquid that is used in refillable devices) on the market. Although the popularity and use of e-cigarettes continues to increase, there is a lack of data on their potential health effects.

Allen and colleagues tested 51 types of flavoured e-cigarettes and liquids sold by leading brands for the presence of diacetyl, acetoin, and 2,3-pentanedione, two related flavouring compounds listed as “high priority.”

At least one of the three chemicals was detected in 47 of the 51 flavours tested. Diacetyl was detected above the laboratory limit of detection in 39 of the flavours tested. Acetoin and 2,3-pentanedione were detected in 46 and 23 and of the flavours, respectively.

“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 David Christiani, study co-author & prof of environmental genetics, Elkan Blout.

Other Harvard Chan School authors included Skye Flanigan, Mallory LeBlanc, Jose Vallarino, Piers MacNaughton, and James Stewart.

This study was supported by an NIH/NIEHS Center grant.

© Harvard University News

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