Popcorn Lung from E-Cigarettes
Sales of e-cigarettes have exploded over the last several years, but other concerns about their safety are growing, too. Though initially advertised as being better for smokers than traditional cigarettes, the devices contain nicotine solutions that, according to recent studies, include chemicals with links to serious health issues.
One of the most dangerous of these chemicals is diacetyl, a buttery-flavored chemical also found in microwave popcorn. This chemical has been linked to bronchiolitis obliterans, a serious lung disease sometimes called “popcorn lung.” Because of this link, most major popcorn manufacturers have removed the ingredient from their products, but it is still found in e-cigarette vapor.
There are also a number of other potentially dangerous chemicals in e-cigarette nicotine solutions, some of which can produce cancer-causing formaldehyde. Manufacturers have done little to warn consumers about these health hazards.
The Pittsburgh lawyers at Chaffin Luhana are currently investigating cases in which e-cigarettes caused serious health problems. Patients may suffer from shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, or other symptoms.
What Are E-Cigarettes?
E-cigarettes are part of a class of devices known as “electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS).” Instead of using tobacco to deliver nicotine, they deliver it in a heated solution that produces a nicotine-laden vapor. The devices are battery-operated and have a portable heating element that when the user sucks on the mouthpiece, heats up the nicotine solution to produce a vapor the user then inhales. The practice of using these devices is usually called “vaping.”
E-cigarettes showed up on the U.S. market in about 2007 and since then have enjoyed a growing popularity. Manufacturers advertised them as being safer than traditional cigarettes and touted them as helpful tools in quit-smoking campaigns. According to a report from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), in 2014, about 12.6 percent of adults had tried an e-cigarette, with young adults most affected. The authors added that results from several studies “suggest recent rapid increases in e-cigarette use.”
For many years, manufacturers enjoyed little oversight into their activities of making and selling e-cigarettes. As safety concerns increased, however, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) took notice In 2009, they warned about the potentially dangerous chemicals contained in e-cigarette solutions, and in 2016, they finalized a new rule extending their authority to regulate all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and other ENDS. The administration can now ensure these products have proper health warnings and restrict sales to minors.
What Ingredients are in E-Cigarettes?
Manufacturers led consumers to believe that the nicotine solutions used in the refillable cartridges were completely safe, and simply contained nicotine in a liquid base. But studies have since cast doubt on those claims.
In a 2009 press release, the FDA warned that its laboratory analysis of e-cigarette samples revealed “carcinogens and toxic chemicals such as diethylene glycol, an ingredient used in antifreeze.” They also found nitrosamines, which are carcinogenic, and warned that users could be exposing themselves to these dangerous toxins by vaping.
Since then, a number of other studies and reports have revealed the presence of dangerous chemicals in e-cigarettes. In a 2015 study, for instance, researchers noted that the nicotine solutions typically contain nicotine along with propylene glycol, glycerol, and flavoring chemicals. In the laboratory, they discovered that during the vaping process, these chemicals could interact in such a way as to produce known formaldehyde-releasing agents used in industrial biocides. Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen.
In the vaped e-cigarettes, according to the researchers, “more than 2% of the total solvent molecules have converted to formaldehyde-releasing agents, reaching concentrations higher than concentrations of nicotine.” They went on to analyze the risk associated with inhaling formaldehyde-releasing agents, and determined that long-term vaping could be associated with an increased cancer risk five times as high as the risk associated with long-term smoking. They added that these agents could “deposit more efficiently” into the respiratory tract than other types of formaldehyde.
Propylene glycol is often one of the main ingredients found in the nicotine solution. It is a liquid that’s also used in foods and cosmetics as a solvent, and has been “generally recognized as safe (GRAS)” by the FDA since 1997. The chemical is usually eaten or put onto the body, however, not inhaled, and inhalation presents unique hazards.
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) stated in a 2008 report on the chemical that in animal studies, inhalation decreased fertility and newborn survival and also caused adverse developmental affects.
Glycerol is another common ingredient found in e-cigarette solutions. It is a sweet, syrupy liquid used in the food and personal care industry to make products smooth and slippery. Again, it’s considered generally safe when eaten or applied topically, but there are questions about how it may affect the lungs when inhaled. In a 2014 study, researchers noted that both glycerol and propylene glycol can be oxidized to form the same aldehydes (like formaldehyde) found in conventional cigarette smoke when a heating voltage greater than 3 volts is used. They added that different brands and models of e-cigarettes seem to yield varying levels of these dangerous aldehydes.
Researchers added that wide ranges of a number of dangerous chemicals such as nitrosamines, aldehydes, metals, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), phenolic compounds, tobacco alkaloids and drugs “have been reported in e-cigarette refill solutions, cartridges, aerosols and environmental emissions.”
What Causes Popcorn Lung by Vaping E-Cigs?
In 2015, researchers published a study in the scientific journal Environmental Health Perspectives showing that diacetyl was detected above the laboratory limit of detection in 39 of the 51 flavors of e-cigarettes tested. They warned:
“Because of the associations between diacetyl and bronchiolitis obliterans and other severe respiratory diseases observed in workers, urgent action is recommended to further evaluate this potentially widespread exposure via flavored e-cigarettes.”
Bronchiolitis obliterans or “popcorn lung” causes inflammation in the lung’s tiny airways called the “bronchioles.” Chemical particles or respiratory infections damage these tiny airways, causing them to become swollen and scarred, so that eventually they don’t work right. The disease is progressive, and causes symptoms like dry cough, wheezing, fatigue, and shortness of breath. Over time, lung function declines and a lung transplant may be required.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), researchers first connected this disease to diacetyl in the year 2000, when the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services asked the National institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) for help in investigating occurrences of bronchiolitis obliterans in former workers of a microwave popcorn plant in Jasper, Missouri. The NIOSH responded by conducting extensive research into the issue, and in 2004, they released a report on their findings.
They discovered that breathing in certain flavoring chemicals in the workplace could lead to severe lung disease and urged companies to better protect the health of their workers. Soon, popcorn manufacturers removed the chemical from their products because of the danger, but the chemical remains in many flavored e-cigarette solutions. In July 2016, the American Lung Association urged the FDA to “act quickly to require that diacetyl and other harmful chemicals be removed from e-cigarettes.”
In the 2015 study mentioned above, researchers noted that the heating, vaporization, and subsequent inhalation of flavoring chemicals like diacetyl in e-cigarettes “makes an exposure pathway for these flavorings that has significant similarities to those of the workers at the microwave popcorn facilities.”
Types of Injuries Caused by Chemicals in E-Cigarettes
In addition to the chemical concerns, e-cigarettes have also been reported to sometimes explode, causing serious injuries to users. Battery and heating-element issues can make these cylindrical shaped devices into small torpedoes that can actually shoot across a room, damaging property and causing injuries on the way.
Types of injuries allegedly caused by e-cigarettes may include:
- Burns, scars, and disfigurations caused by explosions
- Injuries to the tongue and mouth, as well as the hands and fingers
- Eye damage and potential vision loss
- Tooth damage and tooth loss
- Lung damage and respiratory problems
- Bronchiolitis obliterans or “popcorn lung”
- Potential increased risk of cancer over long-term use
- Serious injuries leading to death
E-Cigarette Popcorn Lung Lawsuits
The attorneys at Chaffin Luhana are investigating potential e-cigarette popcorn lung lawsuits. Consumers who have used these products and then suffered serious lung diseases or other injuries may be able to recover damages in an e-cigarette personal injury lawsuit.
Plaintiffs have already won lawsuits because of popcorn lung. In 2012, for example, a Colorado man was awarded $7 million in a popcorn lung lawsuit he filed after being exposed to diacetyl at a microwave popcorn factory. Future lawsuits brought against e-cigarette manufacturers are likely to allege that the companies failed to provide adequate safety warnings or to carefully research the adverse effects of the chemicals in their nicotine solutions.
Chaffin Luhana provides consultations and case evaluations to help consumers determine whether they may be eligible to file a case. Call 1-888-316-2311 for assistance.