Vaping and Popcorn Lung Symptoms

Wondering what is Popcorn Lung? This is a newly found disease, which is also called Bronchiolitis Obliterans. It reportedly causes coughing and wheezing, shortness of breath. In some extreme cases, the progress of popcorn lung symptoms may even require the patient getting a lung transplant. Researchers detected that the chemical components of 39 out of the 51 flavoring fluids used for vaping contained diacetyl– one of the causes of Popcorn Lung. So what does this mean for vapers? Read on to find out.

Popcorn Lung

What Is Popcorn Lung And Its Causes?

In a microwave popcorn factory in Missouri, many cases of Bronchiolitis Obliterans were reported in the year 2004 by the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Bronchiolitis Obliterans is a severe and irreversible disease in which tiny air sacs present in lungs, become damaged.

This is also what is Popcorn Lung all about. After further investigation, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), discovered that Diacetyl, a flavoring agent, was being commonly used to give popcorn its buttery taste. While consumption of this flavoring agent was not harmful, inhaling it was claimed to be a likely contributing factor towards the development of Popcorn Lung.

More recently, a study carried out by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health discovered that a lot of juices used in e-cigarettes for vaping contain Diacetyl. This lead to a theory that inhalation of vapor that contains this chemical agent is dangerous for health.Popcorn Lung symptoms include shortness of breath, coughing, which are the exact ailments of people diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). Currently, this disease is irreversible.

Why is this Condition Called Popcorn Lung?

Between 1992 and 2000, CDC found at least eight cases of an irreversible lung disease in workers of Gilster-Mary Lee Corp., a southwest Missouri based popcorn factory. Diacetyl, a buttery flavor food chemical used in popcorn was found to be the culprit for causing Bronchiolitis Obliterans. The disease has the slang name of popcorn lung because of its association with the popcorn factory. The company ended up paying millions in lawsuits, and the of use diacetyl has been removed from food since.

What is Diacetyl?

Diacetyl is a chemical compound with formula (CH3CO)2. We find this food chemical in beans, butter, honey, dairy, coffee, fruits, apples, vinegar, and artichokes. In concentrated form, it becomes a yellow/green liquid and has rich buttery flavor. It is also called diketone, used as a flavoring agent, and classified safe to ingest.

However, many health professionals claim it is not safe to inhale. When it is heated under high pressure – for instance as in the case of Gilster-Mary Lee Corp., where workers would heat it up in microwave – it is believed to cause respiratory illnesses like Popcorn Lung symptoms.

Smoking and Popcorn Lung

As cigarettes contain diacetyl, it makes sense to be concerned if you’re a smoker. A study named “Determination of toxic carbonyl compounds in cigarette smoke” was published in 2006 that claimed that one cigarette could contain more than 400 micrograms of diacetyl, that is equivalent of 30 cartridges of e-liquid. Popcorn lung has never been diagnosed in smokers – or at least not because of smoking.

People who work in the factories and inhale it directly are the only ones diagnosed with it. That means diacetyl present in cigarettes does not cause popcorn lung, right? May be, but we are not completely certain about it as more research is required.

What is Batch Testing of E-Liquids?

Batch testing of e-liquids detected quantities of potentially risky chemicals like nicotine, diacetyl and acetyl propionyl in different batches of e-liquid bottles. These tests performed by accredited laboratories use scientifically verified procedures and analytical detection limits to test the presence of harmful chemicals.

As different flavors are formulated having varying ingredients, detection and quantification complications arise. Furthermore, they use state of the art instruments for testing, which are expensive themselves.

Another problem with batch testing is that the standards of safe vaping of diacetyl have not been determined yet. We do not know what the dangerous amount to inhale is or how the results of the test can be related to inhaling.

This leaves concerned vapers questioning what is Popcorn Lung and how to avoid it. If you are looking for an e-liquid that is diacetyl free, then it is easy to find one. There are even brands today that have displayed the testing results on their websites.

COPD and its Similarities to Popcorn Lung

COPD or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease is somewhat like popcorn lung symptoms. COPD is a disease that makes breathing difficult, but it develops over time. To understand the similarities we first have to know what causes the diseases.

Let’s talk about COPD first. The air goes through the windpipe into the lungs via two large tubes. Then the tubes are divided further into tree-like branches of smaller tubes ending in clusters of tiny air sacs. These air sacs contain thin walls having tiny blood vessels. As you inhale, it passes oxygen into the blood vessels, and it enters the bloodstream.

As we all know, we then exhale carbon dioxide as a result. The human lungs rely on the elasticity of the tubes and air sacs for forcing out air from the body. If you have COPD, they lose their elasticity and over-expand. Because of this, some air is left trapped in the lungs even while you exhale.

Now let’s see how it develops into popcorn lung. When a person inhales diacetyl, the tiny air sacs in their lungs become scarred, and they then thicken and narrow the airways. Although what is called popcorn lung (also known as bronchiolitis obliterans) does not sound dangerous, it is. It causes shortness of breath, wheezing and coughing.

Common symptoms of COPD include increased breathlessness even when you wake up at night, persistent cough, chest infection and wheezing. These signs are so similar to popcorn lung that often patients who have popcorn lung symptoms are misdiagnosed with COPD. The diagnosis of popcorn lungs and COPD both requires a risky invasive procedure called lung biopsy.

The procedure involves opening the chest of the patient to learn about the medical condition which caused the symptoms. Although the accurate diagnosis is difficult, there is no real benefit of performing this procedure. As of now, there is no cure for popcorn lung. There are treatments and it is not considered a fatal disease, but it does last the rest of a patient’s life.

Does Vaping Cause Popcorn Lung?

So as it turned out, it is not only microwave popcorn that uses diacetyl as a dangerous chemical flavoring. In 2015, the Environmental Health Perspectives published a journal that studied harmful chemicals linked to “Popcorn Lung”. This study also listed different types of e-cigarettes as items that contain Diacetyl, especially those that are flavored like candy and fruit, targeting young smokers.

An article on this study was published in The Independent, detailing the sampling and testing processes. 51 flavored e-cigarettes were tested, out of which 47 contained flavoring chemicals including diacetyl, more specifically in large amounts in 30 samples. It only makes sense that exposure to such dangerous chemicals through e-cigarettes or vaporizers can potentially lead to severe lung damage.

There are several vaping liquid brands and manufacturers that still use the chemical Diacetyl in their products, while others have either realized that it is hurting business, or turned it into a marketing strategy by branding their items as diacetyl-free. Some companies go to the extent of paying for chemical analysis of the products they offer, and in turn use the results for promotion and advertising purposes to health conscious people.

Of course, sometimes it is just a gimmick. We must warn you that it was reported in the news that two manufacturers were selling their products by labeling them as diacetyl-free, were using the chemical after an analysis of their products. Either way, despite the potential health hazards linked to vaping, many cigarette smokers still perceive vaping as a healthier alternative, believing it to be the lesser evil among the two.

The study showed that there were no symptoms of popcorn lung in their subjects after four years of vaping. Here are the findings, in their words: “Although many vaping liquids may contain high concentrations of diacetyl45,46, there is no report that this has caused bronchiolitis obliterans in EC users.” If it feels safer to vape juices that don’t contain diacetyl, then, by all means, avoid them. Otherwise, vape freely.

The Counter-Argument

However, there is a debunk to all abovementioned reports and researches. Some people, including prominent reputable figures, claim that the fact that e-cigarettes contain diacetyl had been well-known even before the studies on this subject were published. They also state that e-cigarettes don’t have any more diacetyl than normal cigarettes. So far, it is believed that, while studying what was popcorn lung disease and what factors were likely to cause it, researchers had failed to deem cigarettes as a cause of Popcorn Lung disease.

The main counter-argument remains that the presence of diacetyl in certain levels was hardly a secret, even before the 2015 research study.

Side arguments say that the research from Harvard excluded comparison to a larger and more influential group of smokers when formulating concerns about popcorn lung symptoms, e-cigarettes, and diacetyl.

The final argument is that a research conducted on tobacco cigarettes determined that it is not a cause or risk factor for popcorn lung, despite containing higher traces of diacetyl. Seeing as how e-cigarettes contain a tiny concentration of diacetyl, their juice cannot possibly be linked as a cause of popcorn lung.

Keep in mind that to date, there have only been those previously mentioned 8 cases of popcorn lung in the U.S. and 7 more in the Netherlands.
To date, the only cases known were from working for years in a factory that either produced popcorn using diacetyl, or in the Dutch case, actually made the diacetyl chemical. No cases from vaping have been reported. As it is, even with high exposure to the chemical, it is a very rare disease.

The Bottom Line

The Public Health England said in August that e-cigarettes are estimated 95 percent healthier than tobacco cigarettes, and help smokers quit smoking tobacco as well. A Government agency also noted that there is no hard evidence to support the fact that vaping specifically leads to popcorn lung disease. However, long-term effects of e-cigarettes are still under research.

For now, an easy solution that can be implemented is to common-sense and moderate legislation to stop the use of diacetyl and other similar harmful chemicals in vape juices. Another suggestion is time-consuming; conduct more research on vaping and create a standardized way to test it for any dangerous chemical agents. This alternative is robust, but some vaping companies such as the Five Pawns have been advocating for this and implementing it by paying for studies to be conducted on their products.

Till then, until the vaping industry has more transparency and evidence, activists, advocates and bloggers are constantly reminding the smoker community that vaping is overall, a much healthier option than cigarettes.

Published: October 11, 2017 Updated: March 21, 2022



Leave a comment

37 comments on “Vaping and Popcorn Lung Symptoms

  • lil peep

    October 2, 2019 at 5:26 am

    what is obama’s last name? seriously i dont get it

  • Jon w.

    September 30, 2018 at 7:09 pm

    I would just like to say I personaly have only been vaping a cupple of weeks. I smoked for nearly 25 years and feel 1000 time better since i made the switch. As far as safety like one of the comments before (Dr Recomended). Dr`s used to perscribe cigeretts before they were found to cause cancer just a little food for thought. And here is a question i have always ask a non smoker when complaing about smokers. Just how many cancer causing chemicals come out of the exaust pipe of your car in the pirod of time it takes for an avrage smoker to finish 1 cigerett and compair then complain


    September 20, 2018 at 3:44 pm

    As mentioned in the article, cigarettes contain roughly 85 times the diacetyl of e-cigarettes but have not been linked to popcorn lung. Why then would e-cigarette use lead to it? PublicHealthEngland estimates the harm from e-devices as 95% less than smoking. Anyone who can’t stop smoking should switch to vaping. It’s just common sense. And, of course it’s better to inhale fresh air than anything else.

  • Sarah

    September 18, 2018 at 7:00 am

    For goodness sake people – if we’d have been intended to smoke cigarettes or vape e Cigarettes we’d have been born with a packet!! Seriously, are people so stupid as to think either alternative is healthy!! Gobsmacked at the stupidity of most humans!!

  • Lisa Aguirre

    August 26, 2018 at 10:48 pm

    I have been gaping for about four years now
    I developed this u still able dry cough
    My coughing episodes lasts for over 10 mi utes sometimes. I am going to a pulmonologist this coming week. They said vapi f was safe and better than cigarettes. My coughing is non stop and I have shortness of breath and exhaustion . Who do I sue?. This really sucks.

    • Sarah

      September 18, 2018 at 6:59 am

      For goodness sake people – if we’d have been intended to smoke cigarettes or vape e Cigarettes we’d have been born with a packet!! Seriously, are people so stupid as to think either alternative is healthy!! Gobsmacked at the stupidity of most humans!!

    • budha

      October 2, 2019 at 5:29 am

      you sue yourself for vaping

      • budha again

        October 2, 2019 at 5:32 am

        lol stop gaping lmao

  • Jem de Blondeville

    August 12, 2018 at 8:39 am

    i had been a smoker for 48 years, resulting in a heart attack, with cardiogenic shock last year, and my heart surgeon told me to stop smoking, use patches and vapes if it helps, but don’t touch cigarettes, in the last year since, ive vaped, and repeatedly asked my gp and cardio nurses is vaping okay, and none have said anything negative with me using a vape. also i had a guinea pig in respect of my youngest brother who had been vaping for 4 years, and is now still doing 20km walks. also noticed that the article said 30 bottles of vape, was equivalant to smoking one cigarette. we can all cherry pick the bits that we want to hear, but i judge more from what the cardio dept, my gp, and how my brother has got on with vaping, than alarmist suggestions, some of which has been created by the tobacco industry

  • Dee

    August 3, 2018 at 4:58 pm

    If you really care about your health, you’ll find a way to quit smoking AND vaping. Neither are good for you. Inhaling ANYTHING except plain ol’ NON-polluted AIR is at least potentially harmful to your lungs, if not highly likely. The more chemicals, the more risk.

    And it is unwise to take advice from ANYONE who has a vested interest in selling you a product. They are biased, plain and simple. They may be required by law, in some cases, to present you with basic facts — but they will try to gloss over the negative aspects and tell you not to worry about them. OF COURSE they will. They want you to buy their product, invest in their industry, keep their jobs safe! Pay for their next Mercedes and another lavish vacation!

    If you WANT hard enough to believe it, you will allow yourself to be lulled into feeling safe so you can continue whatever habit you want to keep doing. Vaping, smoking, drinking alcohol, eating unhealthy foods, having unprotected sex. People will justify almost anything to satisfy their desires.

    Is vaping “safer than” smoking? Yes–BUT… it IS HARMFUL to your health. Less harmful? Yes. If that’s all you care about, vape on! If you truly want to be free of the risks of not being able to BREATHE later in life, you’ll quit ALL OF IT.

    I have personally watched 2 people with lung cancer dying in front of me. I’ve watched emphysema and COPD patients struggle to breathe from walking. I have seen what these things do to you. It’s not a matter of “IF” or “maybe” — it’s a matter of WHEN.

    Cancer is a “risk” — COPD is a CERTAINTY for smokers of any kind. Using expensive inhalers to manage the inflammation in the lungs, to be able to breathe with less struggle. LESS struggle. And there WILL be struggle.

    You WILL feel like you’re breathing through a tiny straw every day. You WILL basically be suffocating on room air.

    It’s not a fun way to live, and it’s an even worse way to die. Your heart has to work harder to pump blood through your body, because the blood doesn’t carry enough oxygen. So your heart can become enlarged and overworked. You have fluid build-up in your legs and other tissues because your kidneys don’t filter the blood like they should. ALL your organs function worse than they should, because they aren’t being oxygenated at proper levels. Your body systems will begin to lag, sometimes fail entirely. Heart attacks are more common in people with compromised lung function.

    Sorry — those are just the plain facts I have seen for myself, watching people I love struggle with being smokers.

    You will also put your loved ones through watching you basically suffocate – unable to breathe in enough oxygen, even with supplemental oxygen tanks you have to lug around everywhere. You will make them watch you suffer from all your body systems shutting down, failing you.

    You will rack up huge medical bills — and when your body finally gives out, your loved ones will get stuck paying the bills, maybe the rest of their lives–or going bankrupt from them.

    And the people who want to convince you these things are safe are doing it because they make money off your addictions. Plain and simple.

    You want to be a slave to chemicals, go ahead. You want to put your loved ones through watching you struggle and die a little more every day, that’s your call.

    But don’t ever think you can truly justify your addiction enough to make up for all the suffering you’re going to put them through.

    Don’t think for one second it will feel like it was worth it when you’re drowning in your own lung fluid. It will not feel worth it when you’re coughing up blood and can’t get enough air no matter how fast and hard you breathe. It will not feel worth it when you can’t even talk to your loved ones because talking makes you cough uncontrollably for two minutes, until you almost vomit — or actually do.

    Is vaping “safer than smoking”? Sure… but it’s still going to cause you some severe problems.

  • Clare rainbird

    June 10, 2018 at 1:53 pm

    Vaping is safer than smoking , end of

  • George

    May 8, 2018 at 7:48 am

    It’s not at all the Diacetyl, its the Vape. Its the combination of heat and the pressure you have to use to pull on the vape that causes the popcorn lung. I did extensive research in a Biochem study at UCR that lasted over a period of six months All data pointed to the act and delivery method of a vape as the root cause of popcorn lung, and not the components of the chemicals you are putting into your body. Vaping is equally as dangerous as smoking cigarettes.

    • Bethany

      May 28, 2018 at 10:08 pm

      How does that exolain the factory workers then?

      • Clare rainbird

        June 10, 2018 at 1:48 pm


    • Clare rainbird

      June 10, 2018 at 1:50 pm


    • Ken

      August 9, 2018 at 9:34 pm

      That’s utter rubbish. Do you have any evidence to back up what you just said?

    • A

      September 26, 2018 at 2:13 pm

      @George: Either link the study or admit you’re a shill. Since you’re prob not gonna reply I’m assuming the latter

  • Bell

    March 24, 2018 at 4:53 am

    I’m new to vaping and freaking out abit because of the popcorn lung research, I only vape occasionally with friends, and I’m still scared to continue. Any advice?

  • Christina L Jenkins

    March 2, 2018 at 9:22 am

    It states in the article that these flavorings will not cause popcorn lung.

  • Chris

    February 25, 2018 at 12:36 pm

    There is no guarantee that any vaping is safe, the studies that have been done are vague and covered in mysteries. Government testing cannot fully be trusted and testing from reliable sources is at a minimum. All Vaper’s are pretty much the test subjects for the long term effects of Vaping. I try to stay away from Diacetyl, ive generally found that fruit and candy flavors dont have any, its more of the Dairy based, Baked Goods and stuff like that. Flavoring almost guaranteed to have Diacetyl is Butter, Butterscotch, Caramel, Marshmallow and flavors like that. A line of flavoring is out called DX made by TFA and they are all Diacetyl free. Other then that going to a shop that knows there stuff helps but you always gotta remember. Anything foreign to the body is bad, all vaping is, is a less harmful substitute for cigarettes that can be used to help quit smoking. Ive succeeded using vaping and quit cigarettes for 4 months and vaping for 3 months but i ended up smoking again and now im vaping again. All in all im just a guy with my own opinion and no one has to believe anything i say.

    • Donna

      August 27, 2018 at 5:34 pm

      Very funny and an excellent review.

  • Lewis

    February 21, 2018 at 5:50 pm

    Great article, very balanced arguments, thanks for some good advice

  • Maggie

    January 1, 2018 at 3:18 pm

    So, vaping without diacetyl in the juice and no nicotine make it safe?

  • Pamela

    December 16, 2017 at 9:05 pm

    I vape without nicotine Will I get popcorn lung to or not ? I only vape the flavors 0 nicotene

    • dibs

      December 31, 2017 at 9:38 pm

      yes, due to the fact of the flavoring they use

    • Unknown

      January 7, 2018 at 9:46 pm

      Nicotine really can’t cause popcorn lung in the first place it’s the chemicles in some artificial flavours

  • Michelle

    December 6, 2017 at 4:01 am

    I’m an idiot I smoke Vape it will lead to COPD, that’s a fact. Smoking vape or cigarettes is idiotic. And I’m one of the idiots but can’t stop

    • Dieter

      August 3, 2018 at 2:19 am

      Whats your evidence towards it?

  • geoff opulski

    November 19, 2017 at 7:14 pm

    SO even with all of your test and all your other b.s there really is concrete evidence to say vapeing causes popcorn lung. all the facts stae is that certain vape luices may/ may not cause this popcorn lung. I’LL keep on vaping until there is concrete evidence to say other wise.

    • Katie

      March 2, 2018 at 1:01 am

      Ummm I wouldn’t … probably if you vape for a long period of time the diacytle will catch up to u I wouldn’t take that risk. The popcorn factory workers were exposed to it multiple, multiple times just like you are exposed to the diacytle multiple times when u vape. I think it’s great if you are looking to stop smoking but find a different recreation if you are just vaping for fun. I mean vaping is new and remember when smoking was new. They said it wouldn’t hurt you one bit! This generation will be the lab rats for vaping.

      • Katie

        March 2, 2018 at 1:03 am


  • David

    November 18, 2017 at 7:33 pm

    My questions centre on the longer period that a person can use the vapes as there is a period that one can toss away cigarettes and one will finish vaping.If by using the vapes for six months after giving up cigarettes and laying the vape down to throw it out is the best medicine.This is one option the other is to give up the cigarettes and not vape because of the possibility of popcorn lung is maybe certain –so be it.The product is still in great mysterious anomalies.

    • Maggie

      January 1, 2018 at 3:12 pm

      Hi david, i too have smoked for 30 years, 2 packs a day and my husband was smoking twice that much. I tried and tried to quit, and failed . I prayed for something to come along to make me quit without withdrawl problems. Hence, the Ecig. I quit along with my husband, smoking cigerettes in the same day i started vaping. I do had a cough for approx 6 months after quitting. Long story short, i vape without nicotine now, weening down a little at a time, However, i do develope a cough that lasts about 2to 3 weeks every so often throughout the year. I have vaped for 4 years. I do find it hard to exhale and know not whether it comes from years of cigerettes or vaping a menthol flavor juice. I have suffered through breast cancer as well as a kidney disease and full body neuropathy. Vaping is a pleasure just as cigs were to some extent. I was unaware of this diacetyl until now. I am retired from the medical fied after 25 years. I would do not want to end up with COPD . Are you finding it easier to breath since quitting cigs and now vaping? Maggie

      • Richard B.Roberts

        January 5, 2018 at 12:00 pm

        Hi, Saw a program that said that ‘menthol flavor juice’ like menthol cigs was the worst tested for the chemicals

  • Jimmy

    November 18, 2017 at 7:07 am

    Great article thanks.
    I was diagnosed with COPD back in November 2015 after 40 years of smoking. I gave up for 12 months then back on the smokes again until April this year when my son introduced vaping to myself and my wife.
    So far so good.
    Is there any brands you know of that don’t contain that chemical.. diacetyl.
    I would probably make a good case study

  • Rhonda Sweatman

    November 15, 2017 at 5:01 pm

    I just started using the Vaping the ECIGARETTE about 3 days ago. I have the my start USA mix Red 18mg. Im smoking MARLBORO FULL FAVOR. JUST WANT TO KNOW IF IT SAFE TO USE THE ECIG.

    • Christopher Anderson

      July 6, 2018 at 2:30 am

      No. I look this up because I fell out a couple of days ago and wondered was it the vape I started using. Turns out, I talk to friends that vape, it was. Its call wet lung, simular to popcorn whatever….needless to say, I stop vaping.