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Popcorn Lung Poppycock

In a push to justify or gain more funding, a Johns Hopkins University employee is spreading complete codswallop about ‘popcorn lung’ and vaping

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An employee at Johns Hopkins University is spreading lies and misinformation about ‘popcorn lung’ and vaping to either justify his funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies or as part of a quest to gain more cash. The nonsense has been repeated in media articles and a British celebrity doctor was quick to jump on the bandwagon. UK public health bodies maintain vaping does not cause popcorn lung.

The furore began when the Daily Mail carried an article titled “Expert warns that up to 95% of people who develop severe 'popcorn lung' as a result of vaping will DIE within five years of developing the disease”.

The ‘expert’ in question is Dr Panagis Galiatsatos, a pulmonary and critical care medicine physician at John Hopkins and a member of the staunchly anti-tobacco harm reduction American Lung Association.

  • What is ‘popcorn lung’? Popcorn lung is the name given to the medical condition bronchiolitis obliterans. The name came about because it was initially observed among workers in a popcorn factory, who inhaled a chemical compound called diacetyl. Diacetyl gives food a buttery/creamy flavour.
  • Does UK e-liquid contain diacetyl? No. It is banned.
  • What does contain diacetyl? Cigarette smoke.
  • So, smoking causes popcorn lung? Not one single case of popcorn lung has been documented in smokers.

Dr Galiatsatos was invited on to discuss his claims with Natasha Devon on LBC Radio following publication of the Mail’s article. Not having to play to an American audience, Galiatsatos failed to repeat the outrageous claims made in the Daily Mail.

The same couldn’t be said of TV celebrity Dr Sara Kayat.

Kayat appeared on ITV’s This Morning and told Dermot O'Leary and Alison Hammond that “millions” of British vapers might be at risk of popcorn lung from e-cig use.

It's an inflammatory lung disease that can occur as a result of vaping,” she lied.

Cancer Research UK states: “Diacetyl was banned in e-cigarette liquids under the EU Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) in 2016. E-cigarettes don’t cause the lung condition known as popcorn lung.”

The UK Health Security Agency dismissed claims of vaping causing popcorn lung as a “myth” when it was Public Health England.

In 2018, Martin Dockrell wrote: “One of the most commonly held concerns is that e-cigarettes might cause ‘popcorn lung’. This came about because some flavourings used in e-liquids to provide a buttery flavour contain the chemical diacetyl, which at very high levels of exposure has been associated with the serious lung disease bronchiolitis obliterans.

“However, diacetyl is banned as an ingredient from e-cigarettes and e-liquids in the UK. It had been detected in some e-liquid flavourings in the past, but at levels hundreds of times lower than in cigarette smoke. Even at these levels, smoking is not a major risk factor for this rare disease.”

Yorkshire Cancer Research says: “There have also been stories that vaping products cause a disease called ‘popcorn lung’. This was caused by a chemical flavouring called diacetyl, which had been used in e-liquids. Again, diacetyl is banned in e-liquids in the UK under the Tobacco and Related Products Regulations 2016. Therefore, using a UK-regulated vaping product and e-liquids will not cause ‘popcorn lung’.”

Even Planet of the Vapes staff were contacted by concerned relations following the false claims – it is clear that these lies have a direct impact on smokers considering switching and vapers being scared back to tobacco. It is a disgrace that television shows and tabloid newspapers continue to spread this nonsense.

Vapers can make a formal complaint about Dr Kayat’s comments on ITV to the General Medical Council HERE. Dr Kayat’s GMC reference number is 7043430.

Dave Cross avatar

Dave Cross

Journalist at POTV
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Dave is a freelance writer; with articles on music, motorbikes, football, pop-science, vaping and tobacco harm reduction in Sounds, Melody Maker, UBG, AWoL, Bike, When Saturday Comes, Vape News Magazine, and syndicated across the Johnston Press group. He was published in an anthology of “Greatest Football Writing”, but still believes this was a mistake. Dave contributes sketches to comedy shows and used to co-host a radio sketch show. He’s worked with numerous vape companies to develop content for their websites.

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