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The Dangers of E-Cigarettes

Although e-cigarettes have been touted as a safer alternative to smoking traditional cigarettes, a new study from the Harvard University T.H. Chan School of Public Health suggests otherwise. The research links e-cigarette use with an increased risk of developing a serious and incurable respiratory disease called bronchiolitis obliterans. This incurable disease is commonly known as “Popcorn Lung.”

The Research

Researchers at Harvard University tested 51 types of flavored e-cigarettes and flavor canisters. They were looking for diacetyl, acetoin, and 2,3-pentanedione. These three chemicals are known to cause respiratory problems in factor workers. The study found at least one of the three chemicals in 47 of the 51 products they tested. They tested a variety of flavors including bubble gum, cotton candy and tutti frutti. Many flavors found to contain the dangerous chemicals are popular among young and teen e-cigarette users.

What is Popcorn Lung?

Bronchiolitis obliterans, also known as Popcorn Lung, is an irreversible, life-threatening, obstructive lung disease. The term Popcorn Lung was coined when workers in a popcorn plant in Jasper, Missouri developed the disease. The workers inhaled airborne diacetyl, a chemical used in artificial butter flavoring. The workers developed the disease, and the media started calling it Popcorn Lung. Bronchiolitis obliterans starts with a cough and progressively gets worse as the bronchial wall thickens. Since the workers and a consumer of microwave popcorn came down with bronchiolitis obliterans, many popcorn companies have switched from using diacetyl to other types of flavoring.

What About Safety Regulations?

At this time, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is not regulating the e-cigarette industry. Since e-cigarettes are still relatively new to the market, there hasn’t been much research done on long-term risks associated with their use, and the e-cigarette industry has basically been doing whatever they want, regardless of the consequences. It’s reminiscent of the early tobacco cigarette days. The Harvard researchers found diacetyl, a chemical known to cause Popcorn Lung, in 75 percent of e-cigarette flavors tested.

Thankfully, proposals are being made to extend the FDA’s authority over e-cigarettes. There’s no telling how long that could take or how many people are being put a risk for developing such a damaging and incurable respiratory disease. It’s really only the popularity with the teen demographic that has prompted FDA interest in e-cigarette regulation. Many states allow minors to purchase e-cigarettes and 45 out of 50 states allow the use of e-cigarettes in smoke-free venues.

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