Electronic cigarette, diacetyl and popcorn lung: let’s clarify

E-cig, diacetyl and popcorn lung

Published on: 19/12/2022

Popcorn lung and diacetyl: is there a correlation with e-cigarettes?

Is it true that vaping can cause popcorn lung?

If you have decided to open this article, it means that you too have had this doubt.

In fact, there is often talk of a dangerous substance that can cause serious lung diseases: we are talking about diacetyl.

Does this mean that vaping is dangerous?

With the aim of providing clarity, in this article we will try to understand the role of this substance in the world of vaping.


Electronic cigarette diacetyl and popcorn lung

What is bronchiolitis obliterans (or popcorn lung)?

Bronchiolitis obliterans is a serious but rare lung disease and is mainly caused by the inhalation of toxic substances.

It is also called ‘popcorn lung’ because the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health discovered in the early 2000s that workers at a microwave popcorn factory in Missouri had developed bronchiolitis obliterans after inhaling diacetyl, a chemical used to give popcorn its buttery flavor.

This condition occurs when the bronchioles – the small airways of the lungs – are damaged by inhaling toxic substances that cause injury.

Normally, lung lesions heal with time, but the body’s repair process can sometimes result in a build-up of excess scar tissue, which can clog the airways or bronchioles, causing them to thicken and narrow.

In fact, it is not surprising that people with popcorn lung have difficulty breathing and that their organs do not receive enough oxygen.

Without immediate medical intervention, scarring continues, and the bronchioles shrink, eventually leading to respiratory failure.

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Vaping and popcorn lung: here’s the deal

Popcorn companies have long since stopped using diacetyl as a flavoring, precisely because of its dangerousness in inhalation, but the chemical is still used in the production processes of other products.

For example, some companies make e-cigarettes that contain nicotine, THC (the psychoactive component of marijuana) and diacetyl as active ingredients. In particular, the latter contributes to giving vaping liquids their famous candy and fruit flavors.

This means that every time a person vapes using one of these products, they risk inhaling diacetyl directly.

Although popcorn lung is still uncommon, some researchers are sounding the alarm that vaping may prove to be a risk factor. For example, a 2019 report documented that a previously healthy 17-year-old vaper developed what appeared to be bronchiolitis obliterans.

However, as with EVALI, further studies are needed to establish a correlation between vaping and, more specifically, the presence of diacetyl and popcorn lung syndrome.

We know that the danger of EVALI is mainly linked to the presence of hazardous substances within the electronic cigarette.

That is why it is essential only to buy from reputable and professional shops, to avoid the occurrence of these diseases.

Anyway, let us see what the main symptoms of popcorn lung are.

Vape electronic cigarette

Symptoms of popcorn lung

The symptoms of popcorn lung are similar to those found in cases of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and the main ones include:

  • dry cough;
  • shortness of breath and wheezing;
  • rapid breathing;
  • irritation of the eyes, nose and mouth;
  • skin rashes;
  • difficulty breathing.

As a rule, symptoms develop over several weeks and worsen with stressful physical activity.

As we mentioned earlier, these symptoms are similar to those of other lung diseases, so their manifestation is not a conclusive proof of the presence of the disease.

It is up to the doctor to examine the patient’s medical history, asking him/her a few questions to determine whether he/she has been exposed to chemicals that can cause popcorn lung.

In addition, certain physical examinations and tests can be performed to determine the functioning of the lungs, such as:

  • a CT scan (Computed Axial Tomography);
  • a chest X-ray;
  • pulmonary function tests;
  • a bronchoscopy.

If the diagnosis is still unclear, the doctor may decide to perform a lung biopsy, taking samples of lung tissue to determine the presence of a particular pathology.

Read also: Synthetic vs. organic flavors: what are the differences and which to choose for your e-cig


In this article, we have seen what is meant by popcorn lung and what role diacetyl plays in the onset of this disease. According to some studies, the presence of this substance in some e-cigarettes could cause serious lung diseases, such as the aforementioned bronchitis obliterans.

In any case, as we pointed out at the beginning of this article, popcorn lung is a very rare disease that can be easily avoided by purchasing vaping products only from authorized and certified retailers: one of these is the Italian Terpy, the leading e-commerce in the sector.

We look forward to seeing you on Terpy, see you soon!