Posted on September 30 2016
E-Cig opponents have spent a great deal of time in recent years complaining about a wide variety of potential health risks that they say could make electronic cigarettes just as deadly as regular cigarettes. Even the experts honest enough to admit that there is no actual hard science suggesting any reasonable level of risk still cling to the possibility that hidden dangers might emerge at some point in the future. The millions of people whose lives have been improved by switching from traditional cigarettes to electronic cigarettes simply have no relevance in this discussion, apparently. Instead, these opponents have missed no opportunity to cite a dizzying array of potential harms that could be inflicted on humanity by these devices. Two of the risks that they now cite with regularity is the presence of diacetyl and acetoin in some e-juices. Since we have already covered the subject of Acetoin we are now going to look at Diacetyl.
Diacetyl is one of those controversial substances that has a history outside of the world of electronic cigarettes. It is a chemical that occurs naturally, produced when yeast ferments. Food manufacturers use it in different food products – especially in things like microwave popcorn. It provides that buttery taste that makes the popcorn so irresistible.
The chemical received bad press mostly due to an incident with some factory workers roughly two decades ago. Those workers were working in a factory that manufactured microwave popcorn, and came down with something that is known as bronchiolitis – or popcorn lung. Those who have examined the case believe that the condition was the result of the workers being exposed to extremely high concentrations of powdered diacetyl, though the CDC has essentially confirmed that this belief has never actually been proven.
Still, that lack of actual proof has not prevented many opponents of the electronic cigarette industry from criticizing vaping products that contain diacetyl. Much of that fear may relate to the fact that cigarettes themselves contain diacetyl – and have for more than five decades. It’s an extremely common ingredient that millions of smokers have been exposed to on a regular basis – and at high levels. And yet a study group determined that this very fact should disabuse us of the notion that diacetyl exposure contributes to popcorn lung, since there has been no evidence that diacetyl in cigarettes has ever increased a smoker’s risk of contracting the condition.
Of course, vapers don’t really want to know what this chemical does in a factory setting, or how it affects smokers who inhale it. What they really want to know is whether or not it is safe for them to inhale. On that issue, it is again important to look at the available scientific research and make conclusions based on sound judgment and reasoning. Studies have confirmed that vaping e-liquid contains diacetyl that is at least one hundred times less than what you take in while smoking a standard cigarette. But there’s more!
Researchers at Harvard found that, of 51 flavored e-juices they tested, 39 contained some level of diacetyl. In fact, that research announcement provided much of the fodder that the media used to elevate this issue to prominence, as one news outlet after another began to loudly trumpet that vaping could somehow give people popcorn lung. Sadly, however, that was just another example of how unlearned reporters often leap into a heightened state of sensationalism when they should instead be soberly examining the real evidence to make sure that they have the facts straight.
Another researcher who looked at the Harvard study discovered that the university’s researchers failed to mention that cigarettes contain diacetyl too. When that researcher compared data, he discovered that the average vaper actually came into contact with 750 times less diacetyl than the average smoker! Even a comparison of the worst effects of both types of nicotine delivery system revealed that smokers are exposed to 85 times the diacetyl level seen in vapers.
For those who are opposed to electronic cigarettes, the presence of diacetyl seems to be enough to justify yet another round of spurious attacks on the industry. However, anyone who takes the time to think through this problem must come to one obvious conclusion: there is zero evidence that diacetyl poses a risk of popcorn lung when found in e-cigs. Why? Because there is zero evidence that diacetyl creates these problems for smokers, and that habit involves the ingestion of the chemical at levels much, much higher than seen with vapers.
Logically, a chemical that has never been demonstrated to cause a particular harm when used in cigarettes should not be assumed to cause that harm in the vaping process unless clear and convincing evidence can be brought in support of that assumption. There is no clear and convincing evidence. There is no evidence at all.
It’s easy to blame the media for sensationalizing false concerns in an attempt to generate viewers and improve ratings. Even that explanation is too simple, however. The real culprits in this smear campaign are those in the so-called public health realm and the assorted anti-vaping associations out there today. It is they who continue to raise false arguments about the imagined dangers of vaping, and who twist and subvert even the most innocuous of stories to advance their agenda.
The question is, though: what is that agenda? Diacetyl aside, the fact is that there is no actual evidence to suggest that vaping is anything but a healthier alternative to smoking. So, why do so many tobacco harm reduction advocates seem so intent on scaring Americans and others away from the vaping alternative? If their goal is to save lives and ensure that as many people as possible quit smoking forever, why haven’t they come out strongly in favor of the best e-cigarettes – a nicotine delivery option that is as much as 95% safer than cigarettes?
That’s a good question, and one that deserves an answer. Recent surveys indicate that there is a growing segment of the population that now believes that vaping is every bit as dangerous as smoking – something that science tells us simply is not true. The problem with that false impression is that can lead many smokers to continue their unhealthy habit, and may even cause some recent converts to vaping to return to their combustible cigarettes. That could result in even more deaths.
Yes, many e-cigs contain diacetyl, but that doesn’t automatically mean that e-cigs are dangerous. To demonstrate that, there should be at least some evidence indicating that there is a connection between the low levels of diacetyl in electronic cigarettes and any actual health problems. Until that evidence exists, the propaganda campaign should stop.