Diacetyl in ecigarettes what they never told you

Diacetyl in Electronic Cigarettes: What you need to know!

Sitting on Highway 71 in Missouri is a factory producing microwavable popcorn.

The factory used a flavour called Diacetyl to produce its popcorn – and, according to one of its employees, Eric Peoples, it did so at three times the usual levels.

In the late 1990’s, workers at the factory, including Eric Peoples, began to get ill.

Initially they thought it was just a cold or asthma.

But then one worker after another was diagnosed with a rare disease called bronchiolitis obliterans –  now commonly known as popcorn lung.

Although the exact cause was debated, many scientists believe that popcorn lung is caused by diacetyl, an ingredient used in popcorn to produce that buttery flavour we love in popcorn.

The effects can be devestating. At the young age of 27 , Eric Peoples, was told he had just 18% of his lung capacity.

Even worse, he would need a double lung transplant within the next ten years.

He and his wife were awarded a massive 20 million dollar payout – although that in itself lead to another tragic outcome, which we’ll come to later in the blog post!

What is Diacetyl?

Diacetyl

You probably consume Diacetyl every day.

It occurs naturally in foods like butter, vinegar and honey and occurs via fermentation in drinks and foods like cheese and beer .

This yellow-green liquid also carries an intense buttery flavour, is also a commonly used food flavouring. It is recognised by the FDA as being generally safe.

Unfortunately, according to Eric People’s testimony, levels of Diacetyl used in the popcorn factory were at three times normal levels.

Diacetyl in E-Liquid & Cigarette Smoke

Image of popcorn on a red poster. Reads: Popcorn, buttery fresh!
It’s the diacetyl in popcorn which is responsible for that buttery flavour.

In 2014 small levels of Diacetyl (estimated at around 0.05% of contents) was found in one eliquid during internal testing procedures.

While the flavour was removed from sale, the news hit the headlines.

We already know that Diacetyl is present in cigarette smoke.

And, according to research, by Dr Farsalinos, it is also present in many sweet flavoured eliquids found in Europe.

However, it has rarely been found in tests of UK eliquid, and when it has been found the eliquid has been removed from sale.

Crucially, when it HAS been found in Eliquid, the quantities have been, on average, between 100 times lower than those found in cigarette smoke. (Another, similar chemical, acetyl propionyl, was discovered in those eliquids at levels 10 times lower than in cigarette smoke.)

Do you need to worry?

Diacetyl comparison between cigarettes and eliquidEmbed this chart (530px):

Copy and paste the below code into the “Text” section of your Blog or the HTML of your website

<a href="https://www.ecigarettedirect.co.uk/ashtray-blog/2014/09/diacetyl-comparison-eliquid-cigarettes.html"><img src="https://www.ecigarettedirect.co.uk/ashtray-blog/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/diacetyl-graphsmall.jpg" alt="Diacetyl" width="530" border="0" /></a>

There’s several reasons why the concern over Diacetyl in eliquid may have been overblown.

1. As mentioned Diacetyl and acetyl propionyl in cigarettes is, on average, between 10-100 times higher than in eliquid.
2. Cigarette smoke does not cause popcorn lung (although it is a cause of many other diseases).
3. Reputable UK suppliers test for Diacetyl, and withdraw from sale any eliquids that contain Diacetyl.

According to Ecigarette researcher Dr Konstantinos:

‘Median levels of daily exposure from e-cigarettes (3mL liquid consumption per day) was 56ug/day. The level of daily exposure from tobacco cigarettes (daily consumption of 20 cigarettes) was 5870ug/day.’

Daily diacetyl exposure from cigarettes 5870ug, compared with only 56ug from ecigs

Please note, however, that the figures in the graph represent the average levels of diacetyl. Diacetyl has been found in higher levels in eliquid, and the presence of Diacetyl in eliquid continues to be a risk. It’s also an avoidable risk as it can be detected by testing, and by the reformulation of flavours.

Update: The Latest on Diacetyl and Popcorn Lung

Since this blog post was first written, diacetyl in e-liquid has been in the news again.

Fortunately, the most recent study has been well analysed by researchers.

Professor Siegel, for example, found that the average level of diacetyl in e-liquid was 750 times lower than in cigarette smoke.

Dr Farsalinos also criticised the study, noting that it created a false impression that e-cigs were more dangerous than tobacco cigarettes.

Eliminating Diacetyl in E-Liquid

Both ECigaretteDirect and ECITA take careful measures to prevent Diacetyl from being present in ecigarettes.

ECITA requires members to independently test their eliquid for impurities, and also commissions tests itself.

If an impurity is found, the company has to withdraw that eliquid for sale, and if it wishes to sell the flavour again it has to reformulate the eliquid.

We ourselves test every flavour for diacetyl. We also test for certain other impurities which have been found in e-liquid, and publish our test certificates on our website so that customers can view them.

You can see all our e-liquid tests here.

Finally

A Glister Mary Lee popcorn plant in Missouri.
The popcorn plant in Mc Bride, Missouri.

As for Eric and his wife, the millions of dollars he was awarded did not lead to a happy life.

In 2012 he and his wife sued for bankruptcy, after having spent millions of dollars building a mansion.

If you found this post useful, please consider sharing it using one of the share buttons below. 

Thank you 😉

Further reading:

Popcorn Lung: A Case Study
A New Study Verifies The Low Risk-Potential Of Ecigarettes But Identifies An Avoidable Risk (ECigarette Research)
Diacetyl found in VIP Butterscotch Eliquid

Leave a comment:

11 thoughts on “Diacetyl in Electronic Cigarettes: What you need to know!

  1. Why is it in this life that no matter what little enjoyment you find, someone, somewhere will take it on themselves to condone it. I took 45 years of smoking fags to find that I could use e-cigarettes, noticeably improve my health and my finances. I did active service during my time in the RAF, no bugger set up a commity to tell me bullets were bad for my health.

      1. I don’t get it why are the liquid makers using and trying to get away with it? , if found when tested, they have to remove it???? What does it do? Is it a flavor issue? Just stop using out in your liquids

  2. It’s obvious that double set of criteria is applied to tobacco and e-cigarettes. What matters to me (and probably to other smokers) is this: if quantity of diacetyl present in tobacco cigarettes, and displayed above, hasn’t killed me during my 30-year pack a day smoking, how on earth would such a small quantity of the same substance in e-cigs do me any harm whatsoever? And all that provided I ever come across it in the first place!

    Anyway, thanks for this very informative article. Tweeted, fb-ed, G+-ed etc:)

    1. Exactly Switchtoecig.
      Another crucial point is that the quantity in the e-liquid itself will not be the quantity finally “hitting the lungs”. Diacetyl is an volatile organic compound the quantity of which would be expected to reduce after it has been heated to produce a vapour.
      James it would be interesting if you have the facility with your lab to find an e-liquid which contains diacetyl (not an easy task in the UK) and measure the concentration of it in the e-liquid when first opening and at various time intervals after steeping.

      1. Hi Mark

        I believe the figures provided by Konstantinos take into account the exposure hitting the lungs.

        We currently have our eliquid independently tested, and refuse to stock any which have diacetyl in them. We’re getting our own GCMS machine set up and if our pharmacologist can do that it would be an interesting experiment!

          1. It would be an interesting experiment, I’m not a betting man but I know where I would put my money.
            Konstantinos is a very impressive guy and I am sure he would only quote like for like.
            I should have been more specific, I was referring more to the quote in your article “In 2014 small levels of Diacetyl (estimated at around 0.05% of contents) was found in one eliquid during internal testing procedures.”
            I think it’s something we have to continuously keep in our minds whenever reading any information regarding e-liquids. E-liquid constituents and vapour constituents are not the same since they have undergone a chemical reaction due to the heating effect.
            It’s pretty fundamental but it’s a fact that can continuously catch you out.

    2. Exactly Switchtoecig.
      Another crucial point is that the quantity in the e-liquid itself will not be the quantity finally “hitting the lungs”. Diacetyl is a volatile organic compound the quantity of which would be expected to reduce after it has been heated to produce a vapour.
      James it would be interesting if you have the facility with your lab to find an e-liquid which contains diacetyl (not an easy task in the UK) and measure the concentration of it in the e-liquid when first opening and at various time intervals after steeping.

    3. Thank you, SwitchtoEcig 🙂

      I think the problem is that “Eliquid contains diacetyl” make a much better headline than “Eliquid contains diacetyl (but at 1/100th the level of cigarettes, and only some eliquids)!

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