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Study Links Diacetyl in E-Cigarette Flavoring to Popcorn Lung

Dec 11, 2015

Researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health have identified a chemical linked to respiratory disease in e-cigarettes, the Harvard Gazette reports. Environmental Health Perspectives published the study, which found that 75 percent of 51 tested e-cigarettes contained diacetyl, a chemical linked to bronchiolitis obliterans, or "Popcorn Lung." The condition is so named because it was discovered in workers who inhaled artificial butter flavor while working at a microwave popcorn factory.

Diacetyl was found in 75 percent of 51 tested products, some of which contained flavors appealing to young people, such as cotton candy, "Fruit Squirts," and cupcakes, the Harvard Gazette reports. Assistant Professor Joseph Allen, of Exposure Assessment Sciences and lead author of the study, said "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." In fact, flavorings exposures that may be associated with flavorings-induced lung disease include fruit flavor diacetyl, alcohol flavor diacetyl, and candy flavor diacetyl, to name a few. The damage from bronchiolitis obliterans is irreversible, and many patients ultimately require a lung transplant.

Researchers also tested e-cigarettes for two other flavoring chemicals, acetoin, and 2,3-pentanedione. The Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association lists acetoin, and 2,3-pentanedione as "high priority," meaning that the flavorings may be harmful when present in the workplace. Of 47 out of 51 tested flavors, at least one of the three chemicals was present. Acetoin was found in 46 products, 2,3-pentanedione in 23. "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 co-author David Christiani, Elkan Blout Professor of Environmental Genetics, according to Harvard Gazette.

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