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California DOH vaping study discredits mysterious ‘popcorn lung’ rumor

Shortly after vaping became a worldwide phenomenon, a terrible rumor began circulating in mainstream media that vaping causes a disease called popcorn lung.  A severe obstructive lung disease, scientists refer to this odd-sounding ailment by its more technical term of bronchiolitis obliterans. It gained notoriety several years ago when a group of factory workers of a microwave popcorn company were simultaneously diagnosed with the respiratory disorder, which is where the slang term popcorn lung gets its name.

Doctors determined that the consistent inhaling of certain substances like ammonia, chlorine, diacetyl, sulfur dioxide, and welding fumes are known causes of the disease.  Of course, microwave popcorn and the e-liquids used in vaping share none of the same ingredients or potentially toxic chemicals.  In fact, vape juices are manufactured from only three primary components.

  • Propylene glycol – an artificial sweetener often found in bakery items, ice creams, cake frostings, and flavored teas.
  • Vegetable glycerin: a natural substance that is also sweet and prevents tooth decay
  • Liquid nicotine
  • Flavorings are usually added, as well.

To be clear, in the early days of the vaping movement, some manufacturers were indeed using diacetyl in the production of their e-liquids.  However, most of the guilty parties were from outside of the United States.  The U.S. vaping industry self-regulated the use of this substance out of existence around the same time that the rumor became circulating on social media.  Unfortunately, the damage to the reputation of vaping had already been done.  And vapers have been forced to refute this claim ever since. 

California DOH vaping study disproves ugly rumor

The state of California has some of the strictest health and environmental protection laws in the nation.  Its Department of Health (DOH) is also one of the most aggressive agencies of its kind in the entire world. The largely liberal-leaning politicians of California are also some of the most anti-vaping, unfortunately. 

Perhaps in an effort to provide scientific evidence regarding second-hand vapor, the California DOH conducted an air-sampling study of local vape shops.  The scientific team leading the vaping study evaluated multiple samplings for comparative levels of several carcinogens related to combustible cigarettes.

Related Article:  Research shows vaporized propylene glycol in vaping kills airborne bacteria

What the DOH determined is that the air quality within the vape shops lacked any measurable quantities of diacetyl or other known chemicals associated with popcorn lung.  Even the levels formaldehyde remained consistent with every day, ambient air.  When a leading tobacco control expert reviewed the findings of the California DOH vaping study, Dr. Michael Siegel of the Department of Community Health Sciences, Boston University School of Public Health issued the following statement in his weekly blog. 

“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.”

Strangely, even though the State of California has conducted published research disproving the popcorn lung rumor, the City of San Francisco passed new legislation in June 2018 banning the sales of flavored e-liquids in the Bay Area.  In the weeks that have followed, Dr. Siegel has been actively been calling upon state officials across the country to rethink these anti-vaping strategies and instead rely on science-based research to make better-informed legislative and regulatory actions.

Related Article:  San Francisco vaping gets a shellacking; Prop E passes & flavor ban goes in effect

(Image courtesy of Shutterstock)

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