E-Cigarettes Can Possibly Cause “Popcorn Disease”

Recently, reports have come out about the possible risk of “popcorn disease” with the use of e-cigarettes. Diacetyl, a flavoring chemical, has been linked to cases of severe respiratory disease, which was found to be in more than 75 percent of flavored electronic cigarettes and refill liquids tested by the researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. There were also two other related, potentially harmful compounds that were found in many of the artificial tested flavors that seem to be marketed to young people due to names such as cotton candy and cupcake.

Continually, there are currently more than 7,000 varieties of flavored e-cigarettes and e-juice (nicotine-containing liquid that is used in refillable devices) on the market. While the popularity and use of the e-cigarettes continue to increase, there is a lack of data on their potential health effects. The FDA does not currently regulate them however, they have proposed a rule to include e-cigarettes under its authority to regulate certain tobacco and nicotine-containing products.

The study’s co-author David Christiani, Elkan Blout Professor of Environmental Genetics said, “Since most of the health concerns about e-cigarettes have focused on nicotine, there is still much we do not know about e-cigarettes. In addition to containing varying levels of the addictive substance nicotine, they also contain other cancer-causing chemicals such as formaldehyde, and as our study shows, flavoring chemicals that can cause lung damage.” [1]

Of the 51 flavored e-cigarettes tested, flavoring chemicals were found in 47 and diacetyl specifically in 39 samples. This suggests a potentially dangerous level of exposure via e-cigarettes to chemicals can cause severe lung damage.

What is popcorn lung?

In August of 2000, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services (MoDHSS) requested technical assistance from NIOSH in an investigation of bronchiolitis obliterans (also known as obliterative bronchiolitis) as former workers of a microwave popcorn plant were suffering in Jasper, Missouri. This specific form of bronchiolitis is extremely serious as it is irreversible. The findings from research performed by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health resulted in a major warning to the microwaveable popcorn industry and flavoring manufacturers.

“Popcorn lung” scars and constricts the smallest airways in the lung or the bronchioles which blocks the movement of air. The primary symptoms are cough and shortness of breath. As these symptoms develop slowly and subtly, gradually more disabling symptoms progress over time. Some people with the conditions have fevers, night sweats and weight loss. Severe exposure may include inflammation of the skill and mucosal surfaces (eyes, nose, and/or throat) [2].

Microwave Popcorn Factory

In May of 2000, an occupational physician contacted the MoDHSS to report eight cases of fixed obstructive lung disease in former workers of a microwave popcorn factory. Four of the patients were on lung transplant lists. All eight had a respiratory illness resembling bronchiolitis obliterans with symptoms of cough and dyspnea on exertion, had workers at the same popcorn factory at some time during 1992 through 2000 and had spirometric test results that were lower than normal.

MoDHSS and the CDC investigated the worksite for possible exposures to airborne respiratory toxins, but found no known substance that could explain the illnesses. The focus shifted to assessing risk for current workers and a possible new cause of occupational airways obstruction.

Due to the fact that there was an apparent high risk to mixers and microwave-packaging workers, the CDC recommended that all the workers wore respirators while working.

In November of 2000, the CDC conducted a cross-sectional survey of 117 current workers that included interviews, pulmonary-function testing, and air sampling for volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and dusts at the factory. Thus, after industrial hygiene sampling, the survey detected approximately 1000 VOCs in the plant air, including diacetyl. Diacetyl is a ketone with butter-flavor characteristics. The rates of obstructive abnormalities on spirometry increased with increasing cumulative expose to airborne flavoring chemicals, concluding in the issuance of correlation [3].

After the testing, there was a warning for all workers to caution themselves before working at the factory. However, this warning was never expected to then be issued for the public until Wayne Watson’s lawsuit in 2007 that won a $7.2 million verdict against Glister-Mary Lee Corp., The Kroger Co. and Dillon Companies Inc., for his illness.

Wayne Watson

A Denver native, Wanye Watson, loved microwaveable popcorn so much that he ate the snack for everyday 10 years. At two bags a day for this period of time, he developed the rare disease associated with the inhalation of the artificial butter smell of the microwave popcorn. In effect, he only has about 53 percent of his lung capacity.

As stated above, popcorn lung is usually found in plant workers who have been exposed to high levels of diacetyl at the factories. Still, Watson sued the popcorn maker and the supermarket that sold it, Kroger, claiming the companies never warned consumers about diacetyl was dangerous.

Watson told reporters that, “They thought that no consumer would ever be exposed to enough of it to make a difference; well they rolled the dice and they [lost].”

Many popcorn manufacturers no longer use diacetyl in microwave popcorn and Glister-Mary Lee stated that the company has provided “safe, quality microwave popcorn for two decades.”

Watson previously settled claims against the flavor developer FONA International Inc., formerly flavors of North America Inc., according to The Associated Press [4].

Dolman Law Group

While there have been some adversaries to the report, claiming that the levels of diacetyl in e-cigarettes has no effect on the human body, the lawsuit that Wayne Watson won proves the law believes otherwise. Smoking e-cigarettes is gaining popularity every day and the amount people smoke can have varying effects on the respiratory system. With continued study, beyond the Harvard research that already proves that there are potential risks, the focus of health concerns should go past nicotine and more to the effects of the unknown chemicals through prolonged usage.

Even then, smoking these chemicals in general cannot be good for your body. If you or someone you know has suffered an illness or an adverse reaction after smoking e-cigarettes, you may be entitled to compensation.

Additionally, if you or a loved one have been involved in an accident due to a distracted driver who was smoking an e-cigarette or other smoking products, call an experienced and aggressive product liability attorney who can handle the big tobacco and e-cigarette companies. We can help you seek compensation for your injuries. Contact Dolman Law Group today at (727) 853-6275.

Dolman Law Group
5435 Main Street
New Port Richey, FL 34652
(727) 853-6275



[1] http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2015/12/popcorn-lung-seen-in-e-cigarette-smokers/
[2] http://www.medicinenet.com/popcorn_lung_symptoms_and_causes/views.htm
[3] http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5116a2.htm
[4] http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/headlines/2012/09/popcorn-lung-lawsuit-nets-7-2m-award/