(KOLR) You may recall several years ago, when a group of workers in a southwest Missouri popcorn factory were diagnosed with a rare respiratory condition that eventually became known as “popcorn lung.”

The condition was later said to be the result of the workers inhaling an artificial butter flavoring called diacetyl.
Fast forward to today, and diacetyl is back in the spotlight.  But this time its being found, in e-cigarettes.

Originally thought to be a healthy alternative to smoking tobacco products, e-cigarettes, also called vapes, have become more popular than ever. But how much healthier are the electronic replacements than the real deal?

Austin wiant has been smoking an e-cigarette now for over a year.

And like many other people who vape, he has a reason.

“So I don’t smoke cigarettes. That’s why I do it now.”

But respiratory therapist Debbie Dorshorst at Mercy Hospital in Springfield says vaping isn’t necessarily better for people trying to lose a harmful habit.

“As a respiratory therapist my thought is, if you’re inhaling it into your lungs, that’s a foreign particle that shouldn’t be there.”

Dorhorst says its especially risky after recent studies showed, a chemical called diacetyl, traditionally used as artificial butter flavoring can now be found in many e-cigarette juice flavors.

“What the diacetyl will do, it causes your airways to swell and become irritated. And that is a disease process that is irreversable.”

But the vaping community isn’t quite convinced the search for a healthy smoking alternative is over.

Vape store owner Sean Matar says there are ways around using diacetyl in e-cigarette flavors.

“None of our juices contain diacetyl flavorings. And we constantly are looking into any ingredient in the juices to make sure they are safe for the consumers.”

And he believes safer smoking habits start with research.

“Just ask and make sure that the store that is selling the juice keeps a safety and materials data sheet on site so you can see what’s in it. Because if they don’t keep one, then they don’t know what’s actually in their e-liquids either.”

And as for Austin, he says his prefered flavor is diacetyl free, a fact  he takes comfort in knowing.

“I’m not scared. Because I’ve done my research.”

Debbie DorsHorst says there is still a lot of research to be done on newer generations of e-cigarette technology. But she says that lack of knowledge is just one more reason to hold off on using the devices for now.