Liquids in some e-cigs are linked to serious lung diseases

Electronic cigarettes, which come in multiple flavors such as cotton candy, vanilla custard and unicorn milk, may not be as safe an alternative to traditional cigarettes as some would like to believe. “Some of the flavorings that make [e-cigs] so enticing may have their own toxic consequences,” Sara Shipley Hiles writes for The Washington Post. E-cigarettes are not regulated, but the Food and Drug Administration is thinking about extending its authority to them.

Studies show that liquids in some e-cigs are associated with lung irritation and even some serious diseases. Diacetyl, a butter-flavored chemical, has been linked to bronchiolitis obliterans, which is a life-threatening obstructive lung disease. Jessica Barrington-Trimis, an epidemiologist at the University of Southern California, said the flavorings “have a history of being known respiratory toxins.”

Konstantions Farsalinos, a researcher at the Onassis Cardiac Surgery Center, uses e-cigs. He tested 159 sweet e-cig liquids and discovered that 74 percent contained diacetyl or a chemically similar substitute, acetyl propionyl. “Among the ones that tested positive, nearly half would expose users to levels that exceed recommended workplace limits for breathing the two chemicals,” Hiles writes.

While Diacetyl is safe to eat—it’s found in butter, beer and other foods—breathing it might not be safe. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health reported that eight workers in a Missouri popcorn plant got bronchiolitis obliterans—also called “popcorn lung”—as a result of breathing diacetyl during work in 2002. Five died from respiratory problems, and four of them needed lung transplants, Hiles writes.

Farsalinos believes acetyl propionyl and diacetyl should be removed from e-cig vapors because “it’s a 100 percent avoidable risk.” John Hallagan, senior advisor and general counselor of the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association, said, “When we saw flavors were being used in e-cigarettes, we wanted to put the word out right away that it’s a possibility that flavors being inhaled through an e-cigarette could also be harmful. Flavors are not meant to be inhaled.”

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