One of the major stories in the media related to e-cigarettes has been it’s link to Popcorn Lung.
Popcorn Lung is a “condition in which the tiny air sacs in the lungs become scarred” which leads to shortness of breath and excessive coughing.
Popcorn Lung is cased by a chemical called Diacetyl – present in everyday products such as butter. It received it’s name after a lawsuit was filed in 2004 against popcorn manufacturers in the USA by it’s workers. The United States Environmental Protection Agency started an investigation into the chemical properties of microwave popcorn butter flavoring. In the investigation, they found that some workers had sustained lung-injuries from working in the popcorn plants and in 2005, a popcorn plant worker was given $2.7 million for his claim of respiratory problems caused by Diacetyl within their work.
In early December, Harvard released a study which found that 75% of their sample test of flavoured eliquids contained Diacetyl. This lead to a media storm with headlines such as “Vaping Could Give You “Popcorn Lung” from Details. The Mirror also reported the sensationalist headline “E-cigarette health scare: Danger chemicals in liquid nicotine could cause ‘popcorn lung’, scientists warn”. Other news outlets, such as The Herald Voice used headlines such as “Harvard study finds that E-cigarette flavors cause lung disease”.
Something that all of these news outlets or the research paper failed to even mention is that “daily exposure to diacetyl from smoking is 750 times higher, on average than exposure to diacetyl from vaping”. This study comes from Dr. Michael Siegel, an expert in public health research and professor of community health sciences at the Boston University School of Public Health.
The study states shows the following figures comparing Diacetyl found in smoking and vaping.
“Average inhaled daily diacetyl dose associated with smoking vs. vaping”
“Maximum inhaled daily diacetyl dose associated with smoking vs. vaping”
These figures clearly show that the levels of Diacetyl found in vaping products are just a fraction of that which is inhaled from smoking. The average dose is approximately 750 times higher in smoking than vaping.
However, looking at the above news articles and the Harvard Study, not one of them has compared the two or even mentioned the levels of Diacetyl found in traditional cigarettes.
So why is this?
Vaping is a marketed as a smoking cessation and has been backed up by Public Health England as being “95% less harmful than tobacco”.
In response to the Harvard research study, Dr. Siegel told the Daily Caller News foundation:
“There’s a lot of effort out there to demonize electronic cigarettes and a lot of research attempting to identify the risk, which is fine, we need to know what the risks are, but the reporting of the research I think has been very biased.”
In response to news outlets blowing stories like this out of proportion, Dr. Siegal doesn’t believe that this is the media’s fault directly – they are being given bias research which misinterprets the benefits of switching from cigarettes to ecigarettes.
“I don’t think the media runs the show. I think the media is reporting what is being presented to them. What we’re seeing is not the media going wild, what we’re seeing is the anti-smoking movement misrepresenting the data to the media.”
The groups who release research and studies certainly are to blame for the fact that many people believe vaping to be just as hazardous as smoking. However, the media also have a duty to inform their readers with the truth and not to rely on studies being unbiased, leading to immediately reporting on them with scaremongering headlines. These types of headlines which sensationalise the risks of vaping without considering it as a smoking cessation will not only lead to smokers being reluctant to make the switch, but could even see people using vaping as a cessation turn back to cigarettes.