- Some research suggests e-cigarette use may have troubling health effects, including a higher risk of heart attack.
- In 2015, one study found that some vape flavor packs contain a chemical that’s been linked to a condition called “popcorn lung.”
- It’s a disease in which the airways become obstructed, and it once happened to a group of workers at a microwave popcorn factory.
- There’s still no definitive evidence that vaping causes popcorn lung, but some experts have called for more research into the potential connection.
As part of a push to minimize e-cigarette use among teens, Silicon Valley startup Juul announced on Tuesday that it would temporarily pull flavored e-cigarette pods from retail stores throughout the US.
“As of this morning, we stopped accepting retail orders for our Mango, Fruit, Creme, and Cucumber Juul pods to the over 90,000 retail stores that sell our product, including traditional tobacco retailers (e.g., convenience stores) and specialty vape shops,” Juul CEO Kevin Burns said in a statement.
The flavors will return to stores once they agree to adopt Juul’s new age restrictions and a stronger system to ensure customers are at least 21, Business Insider reported.
The move has been approved by many scientists and public-health experts amid growing concerns that e-cigarette flavors make the products especially appealing to young people.
“E-cigs have become an almost ubiquitous – and dangerous – trend among teens,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement in September. “The disturbing and accelerating trajectory of use we’re seeing in youth, and the resulting path to addiction, must end.”
A pamphlet released by the US Surgeon General’s office outlines a number of possible health risks tied to e-cigarette use. One of those possible risks, the pamphlet says, is exposure to a flavoring chemical called diacetyl, which has been linked to a condition called “popcorn lung.”
The scary-sounding disease was the subject of a flurry of online articles back in 2016, some of which claimed that e-cigarettes caused popcorn lung. But those claims were exaggerated, according to the publication Snopes, and experts say we need more research on the potential relationship between vaping and popcorn lung.
Here’s what to know about the condition.
‘Popcorn lung’ is a nickname for a condition called bronchiolitis obliterans
- The nickname “popcorn lung” dates back to the 2000s.
- Rosana Prada / Flickr
Bronchiolitis obliterans affects the bronchioles, which are the lung’s smallest airways, according to the Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center. In people who have the condition, the bronchioles can become inflamed and damaged, causing scarring that blocks the airways. The symptoms include coughing, shortness of breath, and fatigue or wheezing, even in the absence of a cold or asthma.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes bronchiolitis obliterans as “a serious lung disease that is irreversible.”
It’s known by the nickname popcorn lung because in 2000, the condition appeared in a group of workers who had worked at a microwave-popcorn factory where they had regularly inhaled artificial butter flavor. An investigation concluded that there was a link between the extent of the workers’ airway damage and their exposure to diacetyl, a chemical used in artificial butter flavoring. (Afterward, many popcorn makers promised to phase out the chemical from their flavorings, the Associated Press reported in 2007.)
One study found diacetyl in the vapor of flavored e-cigarettes
- One study found a potentially harmful chemical in flavored e-cigarette vapor.
- Getty Images
Much of the discussion surrounding a potential link between e-cigarettes and popcorn lung appears to trace back to a 2015 study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.
In the study, researchers tested the vapors of 51 flavored e-cigarettes and detected diacetyl in 39 of them.
The study did not prove that vaping causes popcorn lung; it only showed that some flavored e-cigarette vapors contain this chemical. The authors of the paper wrote that their results indicated a need for more research.
“Because of the associations between diacetyl and bronchiolitis obliterans … urgent action is recommended to further evaluate the extent of this new exposure to diacetyl and related flavoring compounds in e-cigarettes,” they wrote.
Read more: The FDA is preparing to crack down on e-cigarettes like the Juul – here’s why vaping is so dangerous
Right now, according to the nonprofit Cancer Research UK, there’s still “no good evidence” that vaping causes popcorn lung and there have been no reported cases of popcorn lung in e-cigarette users. A 2017 paper in the journal Toxicology also said that, so far, there are no reported cases of the condition from flavored e-cigarettes.
But the authors of that paper also echoed the need for additional study in this area.
“Further research is needed to determine the short- and long-term health consequences of e-cigarettes including risk from diacetyl and similar flavoring constituents,” they wrote.
There are other reasons why vaping could be dangerous
- Vaping may have health risks.
For now, any potential link between popcorn lung and e-cigarettes remains unclear. But there are other ways that vaping could harm health.
E-cigarettes do expose users to fewer harmful chemicals than burned cigarettes, according to the CDC, and much of the available evidence suggests vaping is somewhat healthier than breathing in burned tobacco, as Business Insider has reported. There is also some limited evidence that vaping may help people quit smoking regular cigarettes.
But additional recent research suggests that vaping may have its own troubling health effects.
In one study, researchers analyzed popular brands of e-cigarettes (not including Juul) and found some of the same toxic metals (like lead) in these devices that would normally be found in regular cigarettes, Business Insider reported. And in another study, scientists concluded that there was evidence linking daily vaping to a higher risk of having a heart attack.
Most e-cigarettes also contain nicotine, the addictive chemical also found in cigarettes and other tobacco products. Nicotine can harm the developing teen brain, particularly the parts that control attention, learning, mood, and impulse control, according to the CDC.
For now, the CDC says, using any tobacco product, including e-cigarettes, is “unsafe for young people.”
Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more.
- A woman smokes a Juul e-cigarette in this posed picture, near Jerusalem September 16, 2018.
- REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
- Juul will stop selling its flavored products in stores, according to a Wall Street Journal report.
- It will reportedly continue to sell its flavored products online.
- The news follows reports that the Food and Drug Administration plans to crackdown on the sale of flavored nicotine products.
Juul Labs Inc., the creator of the sleek Juul e-cigarette that has swept the US, will reportedly end most brick-and-mortar sales of its flavored liquid pods, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal.
The report came just a day after reports that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will severely restrict sales of flavored nicotine products in the near future.
According to the report, Juul will continue to sell its tobacco and menthol flavors in stores, and move the rest of its flavored offerings online.
On Thursday, The Washington Post reported that the following week, the FDA planned to announce stricter regulation of e-cigarettes, which have exploded in popularity in recent years. It was reported that according to senior FDA officials, most flavored e-cigarettes would be banned in stores, and that age verification rules would be imposed for online sales.
In September, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb rocked the burgeoning e-cigarette industry when he sent a letter to 1,200 retailers warning of potential fine for selling e-cigarettes to minors. In a speech, he called teenage vaping an “epidemic,” following a report that documented 75% growth in high school vaping in the last year.
In October, Gottlieb wrote in a statement that he had met with leaders from Juul and other e-cigarette companies, saying the discussions were “constructive,” and that industry leaders acknowledged “steps they would take themselves to restrict youth access to and appeal of these products.”
E-cigarettes have been controversial in the public health world. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention acknowledges that e-cigarettes have “the potential to benefit adult smokers who are not pregnant if used as a complete substitute for regular cigarettes and other smoked tobacco products.” But a Morgan Stanley report found that 15% of Juul consumers didn’t smoke cigarettes before they picked up their vape habit.
Beside the negative health effects of nicotine, which include addiction, fetus toxicity, and impaired brain development, e-cigarettes carry the risks that come with inhaling certain aerosols and flavorants, which may cause the now famously-termed form of inflammation called “popcorn lung,” according to surgeon general warning.
- Pax Labs
- Silicon Valley e-cig startup Juul Labs is bursting at the seams.
- On the heels of a $15 billion valuation, the company is rapidly expanding in the US and opening the doors to its first international office in London on Tuesday.
- After London, Juul plans to launch in three more countries.
Standing in the bustling lobby of a San Francisco warehouse where employees zoom past one another carrying trays of freshly-prepared lunch, you wouldn’t know you’d just set foot in the headquarters of an e-cigarette company.
But Juul Labs is bursting at the seams, with employees on every floor from the basement to an attic with no air conditioning. The company’s popular vape pen, called the Juul, packs a uniquely powerful nicotine punch, and it has singlehandedly revived the once-flatlining e-cig industry.
On the heels of a $15 billion valuation and news of plans to raise $1.2 billion, Juul is opening its first international office in London on Tuesday.
After London, the company plans to open its doors in three additional countries – France, Singapore, and Israel. The international move parallels a similar expansion in the US, where staff sizes have tripled in the last six months alone.
Currently headquartered at a 5-story warehouse in San Francisco’s Dogpatch neighborhood (with plans to spill into a larger building across the street), Juul is opening offices in 19 more locations across the country, from big cities like Boston and Chicago to smaller locales like Des Moines, Iowa and Manchester, New Hampshire.
But as it expands, Juul faces several challenges, including local laws limiting the sale of its products, concern from teachers and parents over the rise of teen vaping, and investigations into its advertising practices.
The rise of ‘Juuling’
Juul users – some of them current and former adult smokers; others kids and teens – swear by the device because of its powerful concentration of nicotine, discrete design, and satisfying flavors, which include everything from Virginia Tobacco to Creme Brulee and Cool Cucumber.
The most popular e-cig on the market, the Juul has even spawned its own verb: “Juuling.”
But while adult Juuling (instead of smoking) is largely considered a benefit to public health because it’s less dangerous than inhaling burned tobacco, teen Juuling represents a massive and unforeseen concern – at least in the US, where a growing cadre of researchers is sounding the alarm on the vape pen’s addictiveness.
Scientists are especially worried about the young users who may otherwise have never smoked but instead pick up a Juul, as several well-designed studies suggest that young people who vape are significantly more likely to go on to smoke traditional cigarettes.
In addition to concerns from public health experts and researchers, the Juul is facing legal pressure. Last month, the city of San Francisco banned the sale of flavored tobacco products that includes Juul flavor packs, known as Juul Pods. Also, the Food and Drug Administration is investigating whether Juul has marketed its products to teens.
- Pax Labs
- A vape pen startup that’s been taking over America made a splash on Friday with news that it’s raising $1.2 billion for an overseas expansion.
- The financing round for Juul Labs would value the company at $15 billion.
- But concerns about the startup’s leading product – a trendy, high-nicotine vape pen known as a Juul – could cloud its future in the next few years.
A vape pen startup that’s been taking over America made a splash on Friday with news that it’s raising $1.2 billion for an overseas expansion. The financing round values the company, called Juul Labs, at $15 billion, according to Bloomberg.
In the US, Juul has had wild success disrupting the existing tobacco market by appealing to former smokers. But concerns about the startup’s leading product – a trendy, high-nicotine vape pen known as the Juul – could cloud its future in the next few years.
Chief among those concerns is emerging research on the health and safety of the Juul and its highly addictive potential. Other issues include a Food and Drug Administration query into whether the company marketed its products to teens, as well as increasing demands from Congress members for the FDA to review the product’s safety.
Local initiatives like San Francisco’s recent ban on flavored tobacco could put additional pressure on the company, which has advertised sweet and fruity flavors as a key part of its appeal.
Teen Juuling presents an ethical dilemma
- A Juul ad.
- Pax Labs
Juuls are especially popular among American teens, who post viral selfies and videos showing friends pulling drags from the discreet, USB-stick-like devices in class. Scientists and public health experts have sounded the alarm on the practice, known as “Juuling,” saying the e-cigs pose a major health concern to young people.
Chief among their worries is the Juul’s uniquely high concentration of addictive nicotine, which is more than double that of other leading e-cigs and may be especially problematic for young people whose brains are particularly susceptible to addiction.
The US Food and Drug Administration is currently looking into Juul’s marketing practices to determine whether the company previously advertised to young people, who cannot legally use the devices until age 18.
The FDA could start regulating Juuls and other vapes
The FDA could also decide to review the safety of Juul vape pens and other similar brands, which could put a major hold on the devices until they are cleared as safe.
Because of an existing rule, several e-cig manufacturers are not required to apply to the FDA for review until the summer of 2022. But many members of Congress have publicly pushed the agency to change this practice and look into regulating the devices, citing their popularity among young people.
In a recent letter to the FDA, congress member Frank Pallone (D-New Jersey) wrote, “The availability of Juul and e-cigarettes to youth is extremely troubling.”
Ashley Gould, Juul’s chief administrative officer, told Business Insider in March that the soaring interest in the device among youth runs counter to Juul’s mission.
“Juul is a company that was started by smokers with an objective to switch smokers to non-combustible products,” Gould said, adding that the company is vehemently opposed to anyone under 18 using their products – and even has a number of campaigns aimed at addressing and curbing underage use.
Local governments could push for more limits on e-cigs
- California Department of Public Health
Beyond these issues, some local governments are taking it upon themselves to enact bans on some of the most enticing components of vape pens, like their sweet flavorings.
In June, the city of San Francisco – long known for its progressive ballot measures like the plastic bag ban – passed an initiative banning flavored tobacco products that includes Juul flavor packs (known as Juul Pods). The current flavor line-up includes options like “Cool Cucumber” and “Creme Brulee.”
Several big names have come out in support of the flavor ban, suggesting that it could spur similar moves in other cities. Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City and the CEO of Bloomberg Philanthropies, called the move “an important step forward for public health” in a recent statement, adding: “This vote should embolden other cities and states to act.”