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Regulators Cite Debunked ‘Popcorn Lung’ Claims To Stir Fear Over Vaping

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Steve Birr Vice Reporter

County regulators in Iowa advocating new restrictions on electronic cigarettes are using debunked claims about the threat of a respiratory illness called “popcorn lung” to stir fear over the devices.

The Board of Supervisors in Boone County is reviewing a proposal to treat vaping devices like any other tobacco product, despite the fact that e-cigarettes only contain nicotine. It will ban the use of vaping devices in virtually every public setting in the county, including offices, outdoor venues, shopping malls, hotels and casinos, reports Boone News-Republican.

To push the restrictions, proponents are citing a debunked claim that e-cigarettes can cause a severe respiratory illness called bronchiolitis obliterans, or “popcorn lung.” The condition stems from inhaling large amounts of a chemical called diacetyl.

“It was discovered in people who worked in microwave popcorn factories developed something called popcorn lung,” Denise Denton, prevention education coordinator at Youth and Shelter Services in Ames, said at an Aug. 16 hearing, according to Boone News-Republican. “It’s a respiratory illness. Diacetyl doesn’t make any difference if you eat it, but it makes a big difference to your health if you inhale it.”

The presence of small amounts of diacetyl in liquid nicotine is often erroneously linked to this condition. Cigarette smokers are actually exposed to levels of diacetyl roughly 750 times higher than people using a vaping device. Despite cigarettes containing larger levels of the chemical than e-cigarettes, they have never been connected to cases of “popcorn lung.”

Denton not only claims that using a vaping device risks this condition, but also says that secondhand exposure to diacetyl in exhaled vapor represents a danger.

Medical professionals focused on harm reduction say misrepresenting the impacts of vaping undermines efforts to reduce smoking and improve overall public health.

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