Popcorn Lung: E-Cigarette Use Increases Risk Of Deadly Formaldehyde-Related Cancer, Research Finds

Popcorn lung could be a major health risk of e-cigarette use, with researchers saying vaping is shown to correlate with a rise in the formaldehyde-related cancer.

Electronic cigarette use has seen a boom in popularity in the past few years, with many users picking the electronic substitutes as they are seen as less harmful than regular cigarettes. But new research has uncovered what could be a significant risk, one normally associated with prolonged exposure to artificial butter fumes.

As CBS News noted, researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health conducted a study on 51 types of flavored e-cigarettes and refill liquids and found an increased risk of what is known as popcorn lung.

“They looked for the chemicals diacetyl, acetoin, and 2,3-pentanedione, which have been linked to serious respiratory problems in workers. Diacetycl has been linked to a serious condition called ‘popcorn lung’ which affected workers who inhaled artificial butter fumes at microwave popcorn factories.

“The scientists tested for the chemicals by inserting an e-cigarette into a sealed chamber attached to a lab-built device that drew air through the e-cigarette for eight seconds at a time and then “rested” for 15 or 30 seconds between each draw. Then they analyzed the air streams and found that at least one of the three chemicals was detected in 47 of 51 flavors tested.”

The findings appear to have some backing. Earlier this year, the research published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that e-cigarette users were anywhere between five and 15 times more likely to contract formaldehyde-related cancer than regular cigarette smokers. The findings showed that the formaldehyde-releasing agents were not present at low voltages, but high-voltage use released a dangerous amount of these agents.

The American Vaping Association, an industry advocacy group that promotes e-cigarettes, is taking issue with the most recent findings. In a statement released this week, the association said the study tested only settings that vapors would not use. The association concluded that it is “improper machine testing of vapor products” which produce the high levels of formaldehyde, 5 News reported.

But the researchers added that the risk of popcorn lung is one of the many unknowns about e-cigarettes. David Christiani, a professor of environmental genetics and one of the study’s co-authors, noted that most of the health concerns about electronic cigarettes have focused on nicotine.

“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,” he noted (via WPTV).

Many researchers agree with Christiani, noting that the sharp spike in popularity for e-cigarettes is fast outpacing research on the potential dangers. The number of teens and tweens using e-cigarettes has grown dramatically, with some now calling it the “gateway” drug of choice that leads to more addictive behaviors.

But others see e-cigarettes as a useful tool for those either quitting smoking or trying to find an alternative to traditional cigarettes.

“Obviously, it would be best if smokers could quit completely,” Michael Siegel, a professor at Boston University’s School of Public Health, told WebMD. “But if that’s not possible, I think they’d be a lot better off with e-cigarettes. They’re a safer alternative.”

The increased risk of popcorn lung could add to the debate over e-cigarettes and restriction of their use. In 45 of 50 states, e-cigarette use is not strictly outlawed at smoke-free venues, WPTV noted, but in many areas there is a movement to change that.

[Picture by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images]