Sentinel Whips Up A Storm

Posted 28th October 2015 by Dave Cross
“Gasping For Action” shouts the headline in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Who is demanding this action, you may ask? It is the newspaper itself. It has bought and sent juices for test and (surprisingly) the results aren’t good, they claim. Does this give cause for concern or is the real problem with the piece they wrote?

“It’s been known for years that diacetyl destroys lungs,” the paper states ignoring levels and alternative pollutants. “Yet the federal government has failed to regulate it. A Milwaukee Journal Sentinel investigation has found the buttery flavour chemical is injuring coffee workers and has seeped into other products such as e-cigarettes.” Yes, we’re back here again – back to hacks raking over the ashes of popcorn lung.

“The very molecules that make Randy [one of the liquids they tested] delicious also could make it dangerous,” they write. It is noticeable how in the space of two paragraphs we have gone from “destroys lungs” to “could make it dangerous” when being applied to a business that could take out legal action.

The Sentinel goes on to make another bold claim: “The method typically used to analyse e-liquids for the industry is not sensitive enough to detect levels that could be harmful.” It is true that there is no uniformity of approach between testing houses, indeed one notable business has been known to visit vape events offering its services with a wink and a nod to guarantee successful pass rates to juice manufacturers.

That said, The Sentinel doesn’t disclose its testing process either and its statement is inaccurate as testing does not have to be for any presence whatsoever. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) have set daily exposure limits so that if something operates under that level one could ask what the problem is?

The issue appears to be a lack of understanding of the science – and this extends to medical journals. This week EurekAlert! had to publish a retraction after it misreported a different story regarding diacetyl: “Case report finds 'popcorn lung' in patient using e-cigarettes. Report points to possibility of diacetyl, a flavoring agent in e-cigarettes, to bronchiolitis obliterans syndrome”.

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In the latter incident, Doctor Farsalinos was quick to comment and demand the authors looks at a different cause: “Although the title is indeed shocking, referring to a very serious health condition, the content of the case report is much more shocking. The reason is that the whole case report is NOT about popcorn lung disease (bronchiolitis obliterans) but about a case of acute hypersensitivity pneumonitis.”

What is clear from these examples is that the ‘popcorn lung fear’ coverage isn’t going to go away in a hurry. But then can we expect reasonable coverage in the mainstream media when medical journals are getting it all wrong at the same time? It would appear that the only way we can expect the stories to cease is if liquid manufacturers do eliminate the substances from their juices altogether.


 Dave Cross
Article by Dave Cross
Freelance writer, physicist, karateka, motorbikes, and dog walker
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