In recent years, e-cigarettes have emerged as a popular alternative to smoking. They are often used as a crutch to help adults quit smoking, but the use of e-cigarettes is higher among high school students than adults, according to the Office of the Surgeon General.
Like other tobacco products, e-cigarettes contain nicotine and other chemicals that can be detrimental to your health.
E-cigarettes are devices that heat liquid into an aerosol. That aerosol is then inhaled by the user. The liquid in an e-cigarette may contain nicotine, flavoring, heavy metals, ultrafine particles and volatile organic compounds. When these ingredients are inhaled into the lungs, they have the potential to cause serious harm.
One especially concerning ingredient is diacetyl, a chemical that has been linked to serious lung disease. Diacetyl was previously used to add buttery flavor to food products, such as popcorn. This is how the condition known as “popcorn lung” received its name.
In the early 2000s, major companies removed diacetyl from popcorn when it was found to be the likely cause of “popcorn lung” in factory workers who inhaled the chemical regularly. Diacetyl is now added to the juice of many e-cigarettes to complement flavors.
Diacetyl is not isolated to e-cigarettes. Traditional cigarettes also contain the harmful chemical, often in much higher doses.
Popcorn lung is formally known as bronchiolitis obliterans. The disease causes scar tissue and inflammation in the lungs’ smallest airways. This obstruction leads to symptoms such as:
- Shortness of breath
- Unexplained exhaustion
If you have any of these symptoms, you should seek medical attention to determine the underlying cause.
During a 2015 Harvard study, researchers discovered that 39 of 51 e-cigarette brands contained diacetyl. Acetoin and 2,3-pentanedione (also known as acetylpropionyl), two other harmful chemicals, were also found in many brands. Only 8% of e-cigarettes tested were free of these three chemicals.
While there is currently no explicit link between e-cigarettes and popcorn lung, Harvard researchers have stated that the possibility should be explored through further research. Most health concerns regarding e-cigarettes have focused on nicotine, leaving much to be discovered.
E-cigarettes only came under control of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2016. The FDA won’t require e-cigarette companies to submit their products and ingredients for review until 2022. The American Lung Association is urging the FDA to act quickly, especially given the popularity of e-cigarettes among our country’s youth.