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?
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
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?
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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.
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.
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