Big Relief! Study Concludes Vaping DOESN’T Lead To “Popcorn Lung” Big Relief! Study Concludes Vaping DOESN’T Lead To “Popcorn Lung”

Many critics claim that popcorn lung is inevitable for vapers over time

It’s not groundbreaking in the least to say that misinformation about vaping is rampant. The media loves to cling to negative, clickbait worthy, headlines no matter how ridiculous they may be. As a result, anti-vaping groups and lobbyists are more than happy to supply exaggerations or flat out lies. These headlines and news stories have a significant effect on the general, non-smoking or vaping, public view. These widespread negative thoughts and feelings about e-cigarettes have an adverse impact on people who vape, people looking to quit, as well as the laws and legislature passed about vaping.

One very famous case of this was in 2015 when a report was published by a Harvard research team about e-cigarette flavors potentially causing a debilitating lung disease. The report claimed that e-liquids contained “measurable levels” of certain chemicals that caused bronchiolitis obliterans, also known by a catchier name, “Popcorn Lung.” The story was picked up and spread around all over the country. But more recently California’s Department of Health proved that the study was, in fact, false or at the very least hugely exaggerated.

Misleading Harvard’s Study

While it is true that overexposure to diacetyl, acetyl propionyl, and acetoin can cause popcorn lung there are many details about this supposed relation that the Harvard researchers left out. Their report claimed 92% of the flavored e-liquids tested in their laboratory contained a “measurable amount” of the popcorn lung causing chemicals in question. Which flavors they tested, which brands, and what was considered a “measurable amount” was not specified at all. A measurable amount could be considered anything from the lowest possible level all the way to an abnormally high level. Without these details the test is unrepeatable, meaning that the report was incapable of being proven and peer-reviewed.

They also failed to mention that these chemicals are definitely found in traditional cigarettes. World-renowned tobacco control expert, Dr. Konstantinos Farsalinos, published an editorial in rebuttal to the Harvard study noting that tobacco cigarettes contain over 100 times more diacetyl than any known e-liquid on the market at that time.

California DOH’s Study

California’s Department of Health conducted their inquiry into the matter a bit differently. With permission of the shop owners, they tested air samples from vape shops around the state where both the salespeople and customers actively vaped. This was an area of extreme exposure, the shops tended to be small, and many were not properly ventilated in addition to frequently having multiple people vaping at one time.

They tested the air for over 20 different toxins. The diacetyl, acetyl propionyl, and acetoin were tested for along with others dangerous substances like formaldehyde, chloride, and benzene, all of which have their own rumors circulating.The study’s findings were that the air quality within the shop, even ones with poor ventilation and a large volume and variety of vapors, had nearly the same level of toxins as air without the vapor present.


Despite the fact the California Department of Health’s report was more scientific in its data and ability to be repeated, the misleading Harvard report still shapes large chunks of the court of public opinion. Perhaps this is because the name “Harvard” holds more weight in people’s estimation than most other institutions or organizations. But alternatively, it may be because they have never heard of the CDOH’s study. This comes back to the media and public health officials and their reluctance to promote the harm reduction and smoking cessation benefits of vaping. Instead of verifying the study, or thinking critically about the data presented, they spread the idea that vaping is dangerous because it sells much easier. Unfortunately, It sells to the detriment of people who could greatly benefit from switching to vaping.

There is growing evidence that hysterical claims like this one are entirely false. In 2015, The same year the initial popcorn lung report appeared, Public Health England released a study that found vaping to be at least 95% safer than smoking. Other studies have proven it to be the most effective cessation tool on the market. These scientific studies, like that of California’s DOH, need to be spread so that vaping can reach its full effectiveness in the fight against tobacco.

Are you surprised California’s study yielded such telling results? Why do you think so many people are willing to believe the poorly constructed Harvard study? How can we best improve public perception of the benefits of vaping? Let us know what you think in the comments, and don’t forget to check back here or join our Facebook and Twitter communities for more news and articles.



Katie Bercham - CocktailNerd Editor

Katie actually had a negative first experience of electronic cigarettes, picking up a cheap and horrible model from my local mall. Thanks to a chance meeting with co-editor David, she hasn’t had a tobacco cigarette in over 5 years. She brings a strong female voice to the e-cig community.