The Effects of Smoking and Vaping on Fertility
The toxic effects of cigarette smoking on fertility have been documented for decades. In fact, the bulk of published data consistently demonstrates poor reproductive outcome with use of tobacco products. This effect is thought to be mediated through the toxic effects of polyaromatic hydrocarbons, lead, arsenic, and even radioactive materials including polonium 210 and lead 210. Given the obvious risks associated with tobacco use, researchers are trying to better understand whether vaping provides a safer alternative.
Vaping involves inhaling vapors produced by an e-cigarette (or similar device). Electronic cigarettes are essentially electronic nicotine delivery systems. To vape, one uses a cartridge containing nicotine, propylene glycol, and a battery. Upon inhalation, the nicotine is vaporized through the mouthpiece. E-cigarettes aren’t regulated in the same way as traditional cigarettes which means it’s unclear what might be going into the body at each inhalation.
The safety of vaping is open to question. E-cigarettes lack many of the toxins found in regular tobacco, so they are often perceived as a safer alternative to smoking. A study published in Environmental Science & Technology in July 2016 identified harmful emissions in the vapor, including carcinogens and irritants. These irritants were found at a much lower level than in conventional cigarettes but were still present at dangerous levels. Vaping might be better than cigarettes, but it’s not safe.
The full impact of vaping on reproductive function is currently undergoing evaluation in multiple ongoing studies, but the sum of the data collected so far suggests that vaping may be detrimental to fertility. Vaping can negatively impact sperm. Researchers at the University College of London studied the issue of vaping and fertility and found that beyond the worries of nicotine and additives, the flavoring in “vape juice" (a mixture of water, food grade flavoring, a choice of nicotine levels or zero nicotine, and propylene glycol or vegetable glycerin) can affect sperm. The study found that vape juices greatly diminished fertility: bubblegum flavor killed off cells in the testicles and the cinnamon flavored vape juice negatively impacted sperm motility (how sperm moves and swims). Researchers at the Baptist University of Hong Kong demonstrated a link between the toxins found in e-cigarettes and fertility issues as well. Following the study, authorities in Hong Kong called for an immediate and total ban on all e-cigarettes.
Staying away from cigarettes and cigarette-related toxins is definitely a good idea for individuals planning on getting pregnant. If quitting smoking is not an option then switching to vaping could be less harmful to fertility because e-cigarettes contain less nicotine. Both smoking cigarettes and vaping can be hard habits to kick, so for those trying to quit, find a supportive community and talk with a healthcare provider.