NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Chemicals once found in a microwave popcorn plant made workers fall ill with a lung disease called Bronchiolitis Obliterans – also known as popcorn lung.
That same chemical is now showing up in electronic cigarettes.
“I wish I could go back and not touch a cigarette,” Rebecca Matteson told News 2.
Matteson smoked for 41 years and suffers from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.
Her walker and oxygen tanks stay by her side and goes through 45 tanks a week.
Matteson’s path is one she hopes others will avoid, but people may be closer to that road than they think.
The chemical connected to popcorn lung has been found in 75 percent of flavored e-cigarettes.
E-cigs, a product billed to smokers as a safe alternative, may not be so safe.
Dr. Stacey Vallejo, a pulmonologist at St. Thomas West hospital said information about the product is still limited.
“We just have a very limited amount of knowledge about it – and they can’t assume that it’s safe,” she told News 2.
Dr. Vallejo is part of a growing field of doctors who agree e-cigs, and the chemicals in them, need to be regulated.
The Harvard School of Public Health tested 51 types of flavored e-cigarettes.
Thirty-nine of them tested positive for Diacetyl, the chemical to blame for popcorn lung.
Studies that challenge the Harvard study point to the levels of Diacetyl in e-cigs as being far lower compared to their levels in regular cigarettes.
One study from the Boston University School of Public Health criticized the Harvard study for “glaring omissions.” It claimed exposure to Diacetyl from common cigarettes is 750 times higher.
Dr. Vallejo knows ailments like popcorn lung and COPD may not come across as serious as lung cancer, but these diseases prevent you from breathing properly.
“It’s making the lungs not as able to contract and do what they need to do,” she added.
What COPD has done to Matteson is irreversible. She now spends eight to 10 nights a month in the hospital.
“My lungs are going down to the point where, eventually, I will stop breathing,” Matteson said. “Put the cigarettes down. It’s not worth it. It may make you look cool, but it’s not. Life’s too short and too precious.”