What is Popcorn Lung?

What is Popcorn Lung? Oliver Norman

What is Popcorn Lung?

It has been no secret that one of vaping’s biggest scandals is the outbreak of ‘popcorn lung’. This damaging lung condition has been directly linked to vaping, but there is one chemical in particular that is now widely understood to be the cause - Diacetyl.

The good news for vapers here in the UK, is that this flavoursome but ultimately harmful ingredient has been banned in e-liquids for a number of years thanks to our strict TPD regulations. Read on as we explore what Diacetyl is, it’s past use in vaping, and how it has caused a number of people to experience ‘popcorn lung’.

What is Diacetyl?

Diacetyl is an ingredient used in foods to add a buttery, sweet and smooth flavour to various treats. It is an organic compound often found in sweet, rich foods like dairy, alcohol and…popcorn – we’ll come back to the last one…

It is actually naturally occurring in coffee, honey and some fruits, but is also artificially manufactured as an additive to many processed foods that would otherwise taste bland like margarine or crackers. Most food manufacturers are not legally obliged to tell you it’s in their product, it typically is counted within the blankets: ‘natural flavourings’ or ‘artificial flavourings’.

It doesn’t sound too bad initially, after all, most of us enjoy rich sweet foods regularly and are aware things are added to processed examples to make them taste better. The danger however presents itself when the human body is exposed to high amounts of the compound, particularly when it is inhaled.

Diacetyl and Popcorn Lung

The first time these two were mentioned together, was not actually anything to do with vaping. In 2004, long before vaping became popular, 30 workers filed lawsuits against butter-flavour manufacturer International Flavors and Fragrances Inc. and its subsidiary Bush Boake Allen Inc. They claimed the companies knew their products were hazardous and failed to provide warnings or safety precautions.

The products in question were, you guessed it, popcorn. The workers were exposed to high levels of diacetyl used in the popcorn’s production, causing them to inhale it on a regular basis, with no warning of the dangers from employers. These workers were all developing Bronchitis Obliterans, the scientific name for what became known as popcorn lung.

What is Popcorn Lung?

It is a condition that damages your lungs' smallest airways and makes you cough and feel short of breath. While not the only potential cause, inhaling Diacetyl has been confirmed as a catalyst. When you have "popcorn lung," those tiny air passages get irritated and inflamed. That leads to scarring that makes them narrower. That makes it harder for you to get enough air.

Vaping, Diacetyl, and Popcorn Lung

Vaping found itself implicated in the fears surrounding Bronchitis Obliterans when, in 2015, Harvard researchers found that 75% of e-liquids they tested contained Diacetyl at dangerous levels. Due to the lack of regulation at the time, the USA had no ban on such ingredients which exposed vapers to the risks of developing popcorn lung.

Thankfully the ingredient was banned in the UK the following year (2016), having only been permitted for around a year before manufacturers like LiQuid removed it from any recipes. Despite this, headlines from the US sparked fears that the same risks were faced by UK consumers, however this is not the case for anyone using exclusively UK manufactured vaping products like our 10ml range.

Rest assured that every drop of e-liquid from our nic salt to our shortfills are held to exacting quality standards and are fully compliant and above-board. It’s good to understand the history and dangers, but if it’s made in the UK, you can vape with peace of mind.

Popcorn Lung Symptoms From Vaping

While diacetyl is banned in UK-made e-liquids, the rise of disposable vaping has rekindled the media frenzy around the subject of pocorn lung.

There have been a number of headlines, particularly in 2022 and now 2023, with younger people reporting they have either felt symptoms or, in the case of Abby Flynnreportedly being diagnosed with the condition.

If substantiated, this would be the first recorded case of popcorn lung in the UK to be linked to vaping, as stated by Cancer Research UK.

The fact remains however, that the ingredient most associated with popcorn lung, diacetyl, has been banned in the UK since 2016. When we consider that in Miss Flynn's case she explicitly states it is disposable vapes she has been using, and to an extreme degree, it raises the question: are disposable vapes safe?

While illegal disposables have made it to the UK market (3000 puff models for example) their 300-600 puff equivalents are supposed to have been registered and approved by the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

Some of these 'approved' disposables have recently been taken off shelves in major suprmarkets like Tesco and Sainsbury's following areport which found certain varieties contained over the legal limit of nicotine containing e-liquid.

With this in mind combined with the report of a popcorn lung case linked to dispsoables, we must take caution and question if these devices contain ingredients that are not supposed to be present.

We advise any vapers to be very careful when considering disposable vapes, and reccomend only buying from reputable brands, like LiQuid, who produce in the UK and are held to exacting safety standards. You can also learn more about disposable vs traditional vapes here.

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