The official blog of the Lung Institute.
With tasty sounding flavors such as cotton candy, cupcakes and others, e-cigarette flavorings aren’t as innocent as they seem. Those sweet tasting e-liquids and sweet smelling vapor clouds may not be as good for you as previously thought. Vaping could lead to silent damage. To help you stay healthy and to have the facts you need to stay informed, we’ve done some research about e-cigarette flavorings. So, are e-cigarette flavorings linked with lung disease?
What are e-cigarettes and what’s in them?
E-cigarettes, or e-cigs, are a popular tobacco product known as electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS). Some people use e-cigarettes as an alternative to traditional cigarettes. While a smoker inhales smoke, nicotine and other lung irritants, people who use e-cigarettes inhale vapor containing nicotine and other substances. E-cigarettes are typically battery operated and use a heating element to heat the e-liquid from a refillable cartridge, which releases chemical-filled vapor.
The main component of e-cigarettes is e-liquid. The e-liquid is created when nicotine is extracted from tobacco and mixed with a base, such as propylene glycol. The e-liquid may also include flavorings, colorings and other chemicals.
Until recently, there has not been any regulation of e-cigarettes, so little was known about the actual contents of e-liquid. However, studies show that e-cigarettes contain nicotine and also may contain harmful chemicals, including carcinogens and lung irritants.
How are e-cigarette flavorings linked with lung disease?
Of the 51 types of flavored e-cigarettes and refill liquids, researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health looked for chemicals diacetyl, acetoin and 2,3-pentanedione. These chemicals have been linked to serious respiratory problems. In fact, diacetyl has been linked to popcorn lung, a serious condition which affected workers who inhaled artificial butter fumes at microwave popcorn factories.
The researchers tested for the chemicals by inserting an e-cigarette into a sealed chamber attached to a lab-built device that drew air through the e-cigarette for eight seconds at a time. Then, it rested for about 15 to 30 seconds between each draw. Next, they analyzed the air streams and found that at least one of the three chemicals (diacetyl, acetoin or 2,3-pentanedione) was detected in 47 of the 51 flavors tested.
What are the findings of the testing done by the researchers?
The lead study author stated, “One of three flavoring chemicals was found in 92 percent of the e-cigarettes we sampled and these chemicals are of interest because of what we know about the associations of inhaling these chemicals and severe, irreversible lung disease that occurred in popcorn workers over a decade ago.”
Of the chemicals analyzed by the researchers, diacetyl was found in more than 75 percent of the flavored e-cigarettes and e-liquids. In fact, the levels of diacetyl were higher than the laboratory limit of detection in 39 of the flavors tested. Acetoin was detected in 46 of the e-cigarettes and e-liquid flavors, and 2,3-pentanedione was found in 23 of the flavors.
There are thousands of varieties of flavored e-cigarettes and e-liquids. The flavors they analyzed that were positive for these chemicals included cotton candy, tutti frutti, cupcake, fruit squirts, Waikiki watermelon, double apple hookah, blue water punch, oatmeal cookie and alien blood.
Teens, Young Adults and Vaping
While some e-cigarette users believe the products help them transition away from smoking regular cigarettes, other studies have suggested that e-cigarettes might provide a gateway to smoking for others. Because the e-cigarette flavorings are targeted at teens and young adults, one major concern is for teens and young adults, whose lungs are not fully developed until around age 25.
Based on a recent study, older teens who try electronic cigarettes have six times the odds of trying regular cigarettes within two years than those who never tried the devices. Researchers with the University of Southern California based their findings on surveys involving 300 high school students. In 2014, around half of the students said they had tried an e-cigarette. In a 2015 follow-up survey, about 40 percent of those who had tried an e-cigarette the previous year had now tried regular cigarettes.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a 2014 report indicated that 2.5 million middle and high school aged students used e-cigarettes. In fact, from 2011 to 2014, electronic cigarette use leapt from 1.5 percent to 13.4 percent, while regular cigarette use declined from 16 to 9 percent. However, this reduction of regular cigarette use is colored by the explosion of e-cigarette use, which has gone unregulated until now.
With studies showing that e-cigarette flavors are linked to lung disease and other studies showing the hidden chemicals in e-liquids, using e-cigarettes may not be as safe as once thought.
How can I take care of my lung health?
If you’re a smoker, it’s highly important to quit smoking, and it’s the first step in achieving healthier lungs. If you use e-cigarettes, it’s important to talk with your doctor about the risks of vaping. The question “are e-cigarette flavorings linked with lung disease” will likely continue to be studied. With the new FDA regulations of e-cigarettes and manufacturers, more data will be made available over time. In addition to eating a healthy diet, exercising and seeing your doctor regularly, trying alternative treatments for lung disease, such as stem cell therapy, may help. If you or a loved one has COPD, pulmonary fibrosis, emphysema or another chronic lung disease, feel free to contact us at (800) 729-3065 to learn more about treatment options.