What the negative ‘popcorn lung’ articles aren’t telling you
UPDATE: We would just like to confirm that no Vapemate products contain Diacetyl.
An avalanche of negative publicity on e-cigarettes has once again eclipsed headlines across international media in just about every news outlet. Sadly, the grand majority of these reports are heavily skewed and misleading.
The headlines are nothing but alarming, with statements such as ‘Chemical flavourings found in e-cigarettes linked to lung disease’. It’s no wonder then, that the story has been shared and read thousands of times.
The problem is, as with many e-cigarette articles in the media, it has been massively overblown. The study that has just been released is also quite similar to one that was completed last year without nearly the same fanfare.
The latest study took 51 e-liquids of undisclosed brands and tested for the presence of diacetyl (a chemical used for flavouring), 2,3-pentanedione and acetoin. It found that 47 of the liquids contained at least one of these chemicals. Furthermore, there have been ‘associations’ found in the past between such chemicals and bronchiolitis obliterans (‘popcorn lung’) and workers in industries where such flavourings are used in regular products.
Considering the study found a presence of the chemicals, and the association with lung problems, the study concluded that “urgent action is recommended to further evaluate this potentially widespread exposure via flavoured e-cigarettes”. This statement has somehow been interpreted in many news articles as evidence that e-cigarettes are harmful – rather than the simple reality that the researchers think this is worthy of further study.
A couple more things were somewhat left unsaid in many of the inflammatory news articles. Firstly, that these chemicals are used largely in ‘sweet’ flavours only – the study having taken 51 examples of ‘fruity’ or ‘sweet’ liquids – which means it would also be worth studying how many (if any) liquids contains the chemicals for other flavours. As well as that, the levels of diacetyl and other chemicals found in e-cigarettes are actually extremely low. As mentioned in the study completed last year, they are “slightly lower than the strict NIOSH-defined safety limits for occupational exposure”.
So where are combustible cigarettes in this study?
As it stands, almost none of the countless news outlets covering this study have mentioned that diacetyl and acetyl propionyl are present in traditional cigarettes. Not just present, but in levels as much as 10 to 100 times higher than any e-cigarette on the market (and well over any occupational safety limits).
Even then, combustible cigarette smoking has not been shown to be a risk factor for bronchiolitis obliterans, so it is extremely odd that e-cigarettes – which have significantly lower amounts of these chemicals – should be linked to this illness.
Unfortunately, such negative and bias reports do seem to be having an impact on the uptake of vaping. A study titled ‘E-cigarette awareness and perceived harmfulness: prevalence and associations with smoking’ noted that in 2010, 82 per cent of survey respondents believe vaping to be safer than smoking, a number that dropped to just 51 per cent in 2014.
As it stands, e-cigarette use is estimated to be roughly 95 per cent safer than smoking, and no evidence has yet appeared to suggest otherwise.