Repeatedly debunked conspiracy theory ‘vaping causes popcorn lung’ resurfaces

The vaping community may soon be facing a fresh series of negative news reports regarding the published findings of a certain “study” published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ).  The new publication and its related mainstream media headlines will once again resurrect a long-time and repeatedly debunked conspiracy theory claiming that vaping causes popcorn lung. 

Vape advocates and everyday enthusiasts have been breathing a sign of relief in recent days as the threat of a national flavor ban by the Trump Administration appears to be weakening.  News outlets like CNN, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Fox News began reporting this week that the president wants to place his original plan on-hold out of fears that it may hamper his 2020 reelection efforts. 

Trump first announced his intentions to ban vape flavors on September 11, right at the very height of the national hysteria surrounding the discovery of a new and mysterious lung disorder allegedly linked to “vaping.”  As news began to slowly filter into the mainstream press that the true causational component behind this respiratory scare was not nicotine-based, FDA-regulated vapor products but rather Black Market, THC-containing cartridges, Trump spoke less and less about the potential ban. 

Related Article:  Here’s the VTA poll that likely influenced Trump’s reversal of flavored vape ban

Now that anti-vaping activists are seeing that their illegitimate efforts to blame nicotine vapes for the lung condition did not obtain their desired objectives, they are apparently trying a new tact. By deviously building upon the already widespread public fears wrongly asserting that vaping is even more dangerous to one’s lungs than smoking, a CMAJ press release is now claiming the discovery of “a new type of vaping-related injury that is similar to ‘popcorn lung.’”   

“Recently, several cases of ‘e-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injury’ (EVALI) have been described. However, this patient presented with a new type of vaping-related injury that is similar to ‘popcorn lung,’ a condition seen in workers exposed to the chemical flavouring diacetyl, an ingredient used in microwave popcorn. If inhaled, the chemical causes bronchiolitis, which is characterized by the small airways of the lungs becoming inflamed and obstructed.”

Who is this mysterious patient referenced in the CMAJ report?  Why, of course, he just happens to be a 17-year old teenager from Canada.  To be clear, vaping by minors is illegal in both the United States and our neighboring nation to the north.

The convenient inclusion of a youth vaper is likely designed to pull on the heartstrings of press reporters and their readership.  Unfortunately, the CMJA research has already been disproven by multiple scientist and public health agencies over the course of several years, including by Public Health England, the UK’s equivalent public health agency to the FDA in the United States.  Furthermore, the website for the Government of Canada – the CMAJ co-authors’ national home- says, “there have been no reports of popcorn lung occurring due to vaping.”

Debunking the popcorn lung vaping myth

The popcorn lung mythology dates as far back as 2013 when an article was published in the U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NCBI).  The publication entitled Transcriptomic response of primary human airway epithelial cells to flavoring chemicals in electronic cigarettes attracted immediate attention due to its perceived failure by multiple academics to adhere to proper and realistic scientific protocols.     

Related Article:   California DOH vaping study discredits mysterious ‘popcorn lung’ rumor

The NCBI research of 2013 relies heavily on a specific e-liquid ingredient - diacetyl – that the American vaping industry had already self-regulated out of existence.  The UK and other countries had also legally banned the use of diacetyl through federal legislative channels. The more recent CMJA “study” once again brings diacetyl into the conversation, and the co-authors’ conclusions should therefore be found highly suspect.   

In August 2015, Public Health England published groundbreaking research entitled, E-cigarettes around 95% less harmful than tobacco estimates landmark review.  The publication took the world by storm because it finally laid to rest any allegations that vaping is just as bad – if not worse - than smoking.  The UK research also specifically references the possible role that diacetyl might play in the popcorn lung conspiracies.

“One of the most commonly held concerns is that e-cigarettes might cause ‘popcorn lung’. This came about because some flavourings used in e-liquids to provide a buttery flavour contain the chemical diacetyl, which at very high levels of exposure has been associated with the serious lung disease bronchiolitis obliterans.”

“However, diacetyl is banned as an ingredient from e-cigarettes and e-liquids in the UK. It had been detected in some e-liquid flavourings in the past, but at levels hundreds of times lower than in cigarette smoke. Even at these levels, smoking is not a major risk factor for this rare disease.”

In the days since President Donald Trump first announced his intentions to ban flavored vapes nationwide, a great deal of new information has come into the public dialogue.  The predominant thinking is that contraband THC-containing vapes are responsible for the outbreak of mysterious lung disorders.  Zero evidence suggests that FDA-regulated nicotine vapes are a contributing factor.

Unfortunately, the aggressive attempts of anti-vaping activists to eradicate the entire vapor industry as quickly as possible may now be morphing into accusations of a “new type of vaping-related injury” highlighted in the CMAJ publication.

The vaping community should be aware.   They may have won a critical battle by convincing President Trump to change his mind on a federal flavor ban, but the War on Vaping is still very, very active. 

Related Article:  Vaping activism works; All major news outlets now reporting Trump retreat on flavor ban

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