By Leah M. McMorris and Evan R. Hoffman

Published December 13, 2015

A study published  in Environmental Health Perspectives found the presence of diacetyl, a buttery-tasting flavoring chemical linked to lung disease, in more than 75 percent of flavored electronic cigarette and refill liquids tested.  Many of the tested flavors containing diacetyl were also found to contain two additional chemicals designated by the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association as respiratory hazards in the workplace. Diacetyl first became infamous in the early 2000s, when workers in microwave popcorn processing facilities were diagnosed with a serious obstructive lung disease known as bronchiolitis obliterans. More commonly known as “popcorn lung” for its connection with these workers, the condition can become so severe that the only treatment available may be a complete lung transplant. Hundreds of workers with popcorn lung have successfully obtained compensation for their injuries.  In addition, a man who did not work in a popcorn processing facility but who simply ate microwave popcorn twice a day for 10 years also developed bronchiolitis obliterans.  Despite the more than decade-old link to popcorn lung, diacetyl is still widely used in a number of products, including e-cigarette liquids.

While the numbers of Americans smoking regular cigarettes is dropping, e-cigarette use is soaring. Electronic or e-cigarettes are also know as “vape” or “vaping”, the term used to describe taking a puff from the e-cigarette. A vape pen or e-cigarette is loaded with a liquid containing nicotine and many other chemical compounds including chemicals for flavor. When the e-cigarette user takes a puff, the battery-operated vape pen heats that liquid, allowing the user to inhale the vapor. While the e-cigarette industry claims that e-cigarettes are a safe alternative to smoking, public health officials including the American Lung Association question their safety.

The Harvard School of Public Health study tested 51 types of flavored e-cigarettes and liquids sold by leading brands for the presence of diacetyl and two other related and potentially harmful flavoring compounds. At least one of the three chemicals was detected in 47 of the 51 flavors. The researchers involved in the study expressed serious concerns about the presence of diacetyl in e-cigarettes and the potential risks of developing popcorn lung. E-cigarettes produce the “vapor” users inhale by igniting the diacetyl-containing vapor liquid to convert it to an inhalable form.

Despite containing the addictive substance nicotine as well as cancer-causing chemicals such as formaldehyde, e-cigarettes are currently unregulated. No labeling or testing requirements exist and the packaging is devoid of warnings or specific ingredient or chemical content lists, with the exception of nicotine. The packages are not child-safe and more than half of calls to poison centers regarding e-cigarettes involved children under the age of 5, being poisoned by ingesting, or inhaling/absorbing the fluid through the skin or eyes.  Also disturbing, many e-cigarette vapors are apparently formulated and named to appeal to children, teenagers, and young adults: Gummy Bear, Bubble Gum, Cupcake, Cotton Candy, Tutti Frutti, Chocolate, Cherry Crush, and the like. As part of the historic settlement with cigarette manufacturers in 1998, cigarette manufacturers are forbidden from directly or indirectly targeting youth.  But because they are unregulated products, there are no similar restrictions on e-cigarettes. The Harvard study, and what is also already known about diacetyl, raises serious concerns about the harmful health effects of e-cigarettes, particularly as it relates to children and young adults.

At Thornton Law Firm, we have represented victims of airborne chemical and substance exposures for 40 years.  We are currently investigating e-cigarettes and diacetyl.  If you have any questions about these potentially harmful products, please call 888-491-9726 to speak with a Thornton Law attorney today, or contact Thornton Law Firm online for a free, no-obligation consultation regarding your legal rights.