Electronic cigarettes, also known as e-cigarettes or electronic nicotine delivery systems, are battery-operated devices that provide an aerosol or nicotine vapor with flavorings and other chemicals instead of smoke. When puffing on the device, battery-powered heating vaporizes the liquid in the cartridge, producing in aerosol or vapor which is then inhaled. There are currently over 250 different e-cigarette brands available, and companies frequently promote e-cigarettes as safer alternatives to traditional cigarettes (which differ from e-cigarettes by, of course, delivering nicotine via burning tobacco, which is inhaled).

Are e-cigarettes a healthier alternative to traditional smokes? Unfortunately, as the old adage goes, if it seems like it’s too good to be true, it probably is: new research from Harvard University indicates that electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, may pose its own unique health hazard. Specifically, a chemical known as diacetyl that is contained in some liquids used in e-cigarettes can cause a rare condition known as “popcorn lung.” “Popcorn lung,” otherwise known as bronchiolitis obliterans, is an irreversible and life-threatening disease wherein lung airways are “narrowed and weakened by scarring or inflammation.” It can cause a plethora of respiratory issues such as coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. Severe cases may necessitate a lung transplant.

So, what is diacetyl? It’s a chemical used to add a buttery flavor to certain liquids. It received its name when workers at a popcorn factory developed “popcorn lung” due to prolonged exposure to the chemical (which was being used to add a buttery flavor to the popcorn).

Not surprisingly, the e-cigarette community has known about the danger diacetyl posed for quite some time, but has continued to use it. However, some brands are moving away from its use and advertising that fact.

To be fair, evidence does seem to suggest that, between the two (traditional cigarettes and e-cigarettes) e-cigarettes are safer. The biggest danger from tobacco is smoke, and since e-cigarettes don’t burn, that hazard is eliminated. Additionally, the levels of dangerous chemicals e-cigarettes emit—including diacetyl—is much lower than what one would get from a real cigarette. However, opponents worry that with the increasing popularity of e-cigarettes, enormous advertising budgets could make smoking cool, and therefore popular, again. Also, being “safer” and “safe” are obviously two very different concepts; the risks from e-cigarettes, in addition to the risk of developing popcorn lung, are still not fully known.

And don’t depend on Big Brother to protect you: consumers do not enjoy governmental regulation of e-cigarettes the way they do with traditional cigarettes. (“FDA currently has the authority to regulate certain tobacco products, including cigarettes, cigarette tobacco, smokeless tobacco, and roll-your-own tobacco, under the “tobacco product” authorities in Chapter IX of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA)”). In fact, e-cigarettes marketed for therapeutic services are currently the only type of e-cigarette that is currently regulated by the FDA Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. However, the FDA has proposed a rule that would extend its authority to cover products such as e-cigarettes. In the meantime, the FDA lists reports of adverse events involving e-cigarettes from consumers, health professionals and others on its website. Although it is unknown if these ailments were actually caused by e-cigarettes or are due to a pre-existing condition or some other cause, the number of ailments reported certainly is eyebrow-raising. These include hospitalizations for illnesses such as pneumonia, congestive heart failure, disorientation, seizure, hypotension, and other health problems.

Lawsuits have been filed in California against certain manufacturers of e-cigarettes, alleging the companies failed to warn the public about the dangers of cancer-causing chemicals. It will be interesting to follow those cases.

If you have experienced an injury from any harmful or defective product, don’t delay. Call the skilled attorneys at Brooks Law Group today. We can help determine whether you are entitled to any compensation.

Steve was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. As was the practice for new doctors his father worked day and night during his medical residency at Charity Hospital there. Steve comes from a long line of doctors. His father, his grandfather, his great grandfather, even two uncles were all specialists and/or surgeons in their chosen medical specialties, including internal medicine specialist, obstetrics / gynecology, neurosurgery and general practice / surgery. His great-great grandfather was the Surgeon General of Ohio during the Civil War.