Can You Get Popcorn Lung from Diacetyl in Vape Juice?

If you’ve been vaping for any length of time, you’ve heard about the big old hoo-ha around vaping and lung health. Specifically, it’s about one specific e-liquid ingredient that’s called diacetyl.

And how this diacetyl, which is a chemical molecule, can cause an illness called the ‘popcorn lung’.

Now, it’s true that popcorn lung is as terrible as the name suggests.

However, what’s not true is that you can get it from e-cigarette use or vape pen use.

How do I know that?

Well, because I did some digging, and here’s the kicker — not a single case of popcorn lung [or bronchiolitis obliterans] has ever been connected to vape device use! That’s right — not a single one. There’s research out there that suggests that vaping might cause it… but this is all speculative.

So if you’re worried about vaping — more specifically, worried whether or not you can damage your lung tissue, alveoli, or other organs with an e-cigarette — keep reading…

,,, because I’m about to obliterate one of the most pervasive media peddled vaping myths of all time! 

So What Is This Awful Lung Disease?
Popcorn lung is another name for bronchiolitis obliterans — a debilitating lung condition that attacks alveoli and causes severe respiratory problems [problems that often require a double lung transplant to fix] which is triggered by exposure to a chemical diacetyl. 

The popcorn lung phrase became a go-to nickname for the disease after the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Lung Association in 2002 reported eight cases of lung illness in workers who operated in a Missouri popcorn facility between the years 1992 and 2000. 

The report showed that employees with the most lung damage spent the largest amount of time processing the flavoring compound called diacetyl. This flavoring could be found in hot oil within large industrial barrels.

This condition occurs when bronchioles (smallest airways within the lungs) are scarred, reducing their capacity and performance. The most common symptoms of popcorn lung are dry cough, shortness of breath, reduced activity tolerance (fatigue kicks in faster than normal), and wheezing without any symptoms of cold or asthma. In short, processing oxygen becomes very difficult with this — and similar types of lung illnesses.

Unfortunately, other than a lung transplant, there is no other treatment for it, and, for most patients, this is a devastating diagnosis that is tantamount to a life sentence in an intensive care unit

Keep in mind, though — this is a very RARE lung illness!

Until this day, it’s never been diagnosed on people who work outside of industries that use diacetyl or those who abuse the flavoring in some way.

And What is Diacetyl?
Diacetyl, also known as 2,3-butanedione, is an organic compound. It can be found naturally in some fruits and tobacco and occurs spontaneously in fermented products like alcoholic beverages and cultured dairy products. Due to its ability to enhance sweet flavors and give that extra buttery taste, it is commonly used for flavoring processed foods, and as an additive in “butter-flavored” microwave popcorn. Of course, after the popcorn factory research, any usage of diacetyl within that industry was terminated.

It is necessary to note that ingesting Diacetyl in any way (drinking or eating) does not endanger anyone. The Food and Drug Administration recognizes diacetyl as safe (GRAS).

However, inhaling large amounts of it or any similar flavorings diketones for that matter, such as the popcorn factory workers did, can cause irreversible lung disease.

Do Vape Juices Contain Diacetyl?

It is possible to find diacetyl inside some e-cigarette liquids. It’s commonly found inside the e-juices with the cake/cookie/custard-like flavors, for example, your favorite dough juice, due to the buttery flavor it provides. Nevertheless, vaping juices with fruity and even tobacco flavors can have traces of it.

It’s no secret that vapers had their uneasiness regarding diacetyl and health from the very beginning. But, not until 2014 when cardiologist Konstantinos E. Farsalinos went public with his first scientific evaluation that this topic was investigated. His study showed that large amounts of diacetyl could be present in some sweet-flavored vape juices. Not long after that, this study caused an avalanche of debates within the vaping community. The end result was adequate and expected. Unlike Big Tobacco, vaping communities (consumers) and businesses are on the same page, most of the time. The decision was clear, and many manufacturers reformulated their recipes and juices. 

For those vapers that are concerned about inhaling any amount of diacetyl no matter how small it is, the market offers diacetyl-free e-juices. Also, in the UK and the European Union, diacetyl is banned as a component in any nicotine-containing vape liquid.

Is There a Single Proven Case of Popcorn Lung Caused by Vaping?
I have to stress (yet again!) that not a single case of vaping-caused popcorn lung was ever reported! There has been a large number of speculations forced through media but without any reliable proof.

Why Are Researchers [& the Media] Linking This to Vaping?
While everyone is entitled to their own opinion, forcing that same opinion on someone is not okay. The news is inundated with indications that vaping can and will cause popcorn lung, yet we are still waiting for concrete proof that supports that claim.

In most cases, these interpretations of studies are completely wrong, with mixed facts all thrown together to prop up a faulty conclusion.  As I mentioned before, there is a higher risk for this disease with regular cigarette smokers, yet this does not get covered in the news.

Right now, we can only assume that it’s in someone’s interest to spread untruths and sow panic when it comes to vaping.

Regarding the reason – it is still not 100% clear why researchers and the Media link obliterative bronchiolitis cases to vaping. It is an easy way out, for sure, as there is a public that will ingest those accusations and distribute them further without question.

Are You at Risk if You Vape?
By no means are you at higher risk of developing bronchiolitis obliterans than any other person. As mentioned before, there is yet to be proven that vaping can cause this lung illness. 

Of course, the vaping industry does everything in its power to keep its users away from any dangers. A fact that confirms that is with diacetyl-free vape liquids.

After all, most of us are vaping as a transition from cigarettes to a nicotine-free life. In addition, there is a single US study, put out in 2016, that observed whether vape liquids available at the time included diacetyl.  More than half of the tested liquids (39 out of 51) had some level of diacetyl, and the whole idea that vaping is causing this illness came from that study.

Still, the study did not cover whether there is any link between popcorn lung and vape usage in people. With that said, most reports and “studies” that are concentrated on bashing vaping follow a similar train of thought.

Are You at Risk if You Vape Without Nicotine?
Whether you vape e-liquids with or without nicotine, in regards to the BO, it does not make any difference. There is no proof that you are at any risk at all. If you are vaping, nicotine-free, then kudos to you. 

The Final Verdict
The bottom line is that I’m not, by any stretch of the imagination, telling you that using electronic cigarettes is a healthy habit. The best scenario would be to go completely smoking / vaping-free.

But, for most of us here, vaping is a way to change our lifestyle and eventually transition to ex-vapers. Vaping was and always will be considered as a method of reducing and completely removing nicotine from your life. We are well aware that the vaping community is not 100% made of ex-smokers and the way it is marketed can be appealing to non-smokers as well. If you ever feel sick after vaping, make sure to speak to your doctor!

That said, we should not allow vaping to be demonized and accused of causing something that has not been proven.