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ETpro's avatar

What's your reaction to the $7.2 million "Popcorn Lung" jury award?

Asked by ETpro (34151 points ) September 20th, 2012

I don’t quite know where stupid stops and sanity sets in in this story. A guy comes down with a rare disease called “popcorn lung disease” after 20 solid years of eating 2 bags of microwave popcorn a day. Nothing in moderation when excess is so easy, right?

And the manufacturers of said microwave popcorn made it smell like butter by putting a poisonous chemical called diacetyl into it to give it a “buttery smell” without the expense of butter. They knew diacetyl was dangerous because long-time workers in their food factories were prone to popcorn lung disease.

How do you react to this modern-day marvel? Where does stupid stop and personal responsibility start. And remember, since corporations are people, they don’t get a pass on personal responsibility. And how about the trial lawyers that scour the nation for such cases and sometimes take as much as 60% of the settlement? Can you pick the bad guy out from among the shortsighted shoppers, the phony food factories or the tawdry trial lawyers? Or is it a pox on all their houses?

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11 Answers

Seek's avatar

Well, one can hardly blame the customer for not knowing excessive popcorn consumption can kill you. 2 bags doesn’t seem like a whole lot. My grandfather ate a bag of popcorn every night for as long as I’ve been alive.

Everyone else – a plague on both your houses!

tom_g's avatar

I’m not sure where “personal responsibility” comes into play here. Did the popcorn contain a warning label?
Someone might say, “He shouldn’t have been eating 2 bags of popcorn per day! That’ll make you fat!” Sure. People have to consider their caloric and nutritional intake, and this information is clearly labeled on the popcorn. But the assumed risks associated with junk food, like popcorn, do not include lung disease, right?

Note: I could be wrong. Maybe this microwave popcorn has had a big sticker on it for 20 years: “Warning: Causes Popcorn Lung Disease”.

BhacSsylan's avatar

Yeah, I’m going to have to give the guy a pass. If it was something that was an obvious risk of overconsumption, like a nutrient deficiency or what have you, then sure, he’s got at least some blame. But this is kind of amazing, and not at all something that would be expected, so I think he’s pretty blameless here.

Now, the question of the company becomes a little more tricky. While I might be convinced to be less harsh if they didn’t realize the dangers or thought the risk was very low (for instance, aspartame is technically toxic, but at such high doses the chances of reaching that limit are essentially nil), but considering workers in the factory had problems I’m pretty sure they’ve got some issues.

Kayak8's avatar

The article indicates that the manufacturer had no idea someone would eat two containers a day for 10 years and therefore neglected to add a warning to the product. They no longer use the agent that causes the problem (but what with genetically modified corn out there these days, who can say what we all may be ingesting).

Seek's avatar

@Kayak8 That sounds like one hell of a loyalty prize. Just sayin’.

YARNLADY's avatar

Any company that add a known poison to their product deserves to be punished.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

Two bags a day isn’t excessive, in my book. It is a cheap, low cal snack and touted as such. I know women who eat more than two bags daily. I’ve seen some eat two bags at lunch in the office alone and other employees eat it throughout the day at their desks. Some labs that I’ve worked in buy it in wholesale quantities for employees. It beats those tasteless rice cakes and popcorn is cheaper. The corp knew it was poison and until now consumers didn’t. I say PAY UP.

Kayak8's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr I don’t get it . . .

Patton's avatar

Don’t forget that doctors have long recommend popcorn as a low calorie snack to help people lose weight. I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of people ate two bags a day for that reason (it’s no different than the “two shakes and a reasonable dinner” diets). Yeah, microwave popcorn might not be what doctors had in mind. But I bet they weren’t always specific.

Aethelflaed's avatar

Personal responsibility for what – psychically knowing that poisonous chemicals weren’t supposed to be in his popcorn actually were? And why is “personal responsibility” only something he has to take, and the company doesn’t? No, the company is in the wrong here.

Haleth's avatar

I’ve actually heard of diacetyl before, because it’s a naturally occurring compound in some chardonnays that gives the wine a buttery taste. Winemakers can manipulate fermentation to up the presence of diacetyl, making the wine more buttery. (It doesn’t seem to be poisonous if you drink it in small amounts, like in wine.)

That’s a pretty obscure factoid from a specialized branch of study, and that’s the only place I’ve ever heard of this stuff. I had no clue that it was also in popcorn, or that it was poisonous if you inhale it. This is the first time I’ve ever heard of popcorn lung, which makes me think the disease was discovered only recently. Flavor compounds in food isn’t something the most people would really know about, especially if there’s no warning on the package.

If you’re the one of the first people to get a new disease, there’s no advance warning. In my book, there’s no way a normal person would have reasonably known about this risk beforehand. A big company has the money to test its products and make sure they’re safe. Selling safe products should be a basic standard. It’s the company’s fault.

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