The anti-vaping lobby loves to spread misinformation and false facts in an attempt to persuade the American public that vaping is just as deadly as smoking. One of the more popular myths involving rumors that e-cigs cause a respiratory disease commonly known as popcorn lung has since been debunked by the California Department of Health (DOH).
Vaping is nothing new. It’s been around for decades, but until the surge in popularity of mass-marketed electronic cigarettes around 2014, anti-smoking groups tended to largely ignore them. When researchers from Harvard University published a scathing report in 2015 entitled “Harvard Study Finds That E-Cigarette Flavors Cause Lung Disease,” mainstream media picked up on the story and spread it like wildfire across social media. However, the Harvard scientists failed to mention several pertinent facts.
The technical term for popcorn lung is bronchiolitis obliterans (BO), and it can be caused by overexposure to certain chemicals, chiefly diacetyl, acetyl propionyl, and acetoin. The Harvard study stated that 92 percent of the e-liquids tested in its laboratory research contained measurable amounts of these three ingredients.
But the report did not specifically mention if the measurable levels were abnormally high, which e-liquids were tested, or what manufacturer produced them. Therefore, other scientists could not peer-review the Harvard findings by replicating their laboratory processes.
Furthermore, Harvard failed to mention that combustible tobacco products also contain “measurable” levels of diacetyl, acetyl propionyl, and acetoin. In fact, world-class tobacco control expert Dr. Konstantinos Farsalinos of the Onassis Cardiac Surgery Greece wrote a blistering editorial shortly after the publication of the Harvard study stating that conventional tobacco cigarettes contain over 100 times more diacetyl than any known e-liquid on the market at the time. Now the California DOH is weighing in on the popcorn lung conspiracy by publishing research of its own.
The California DOH vaping research
DOH officials began their study by monitoring the air quality of a local vape shop while up to ten employees and numerous actively-vaping customers were present. The test was conducted with the permission of the vape shop owner, and the DOH tested for the presence of over twenty different toxins, including the three specifically mentioned in the Harvard research. Others included benzene, chloride, and formaldehyde, the latter of which is the basis for another anti-vaping rumor spreading across the vaping community at approximately the same period (The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has since published research that debunks the formaldehyde myth, as well).
What the California DOH determined is that the measurable levels of each of the toxins were no higher than that of everyday air. When Dr. Michael Siegel of the Boston University School of Public Health discovered the California DOH vaping study, he announced its findings to the world by way of his blog. However, the damage to the overall reputation of vaping as a tobacco harm reduction tool had already been done. The false rumor that vaping causes popcorn lung was going to be nearly impossible to reverse in the court of public opinion (since the Harvard report, the worldwide vaping industry has essentially self-regulated to disallow the use of diacetyl in the majority of e-liquid production).
“This study, although conducted under very high exposure conditions in a small, non-ventilated vape shop with many employees and customers vaping and clouds of vapor visible, did not document any dangerous levels of exposure to any hazardous chemical. Nicotine exposure was essentially non-existent. Formaldehyde exposure was no different than in many indoor and outdoor environments at baseline. Acetone, acetoin, other aldehydes, toluene, benzene, and xylene were not detected. Chemicals that have been associated with "popcorn lung" were also not detected by the standard method.”
Siegel also takes the time to blast public health officials and mainstream media reporters who either unknowingly or intentionally participated in the spreading of this vicious popcorn lung rumor. According to Siegel, public health officials, scientists and even reporters have a responsibility to verify the facts of such bogus studies before repeating them to a community of smokers desperate to quit by the most effective and safest tools available. And as the UK’s Public Health England indicated as far back as August 2015, vaping is 95 percent less harmful than combustible tobacco products.