Should you try e-cigarettes when trying to give smoking if you’re pregnant?

By | July 25, 2015


In a nutshell

No, e-cigarettes are not recommended as safe during pregnancy. Not only are they’re unlicensed and unregulated, new evidence questions their safety – although manufacturers still claim they are safe. So the current advice is to avoid.

Harmful vapours

Using electronic cigarettes while pregnant may be as harmful for a baby as smoking tobacco – a new study warns. The vapour from e-cigs could affect a baby’s coordination, memory and learning skills in later life, according to new research from New York University’s department of environmental science.

The vapour has also been linked to a higher risk of learning difficulties or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) – just like babies born to women who smoked regular cigarettes during pregnancy.

“Women may be turning to e-cigarettes as an alternative because they think they’re safe. Well, they’re not,” said Professor Judith Zelikoff.

It’s important to know, however, that the research was done on mice rather than humans. Pregnant mice were exposed to e-cigarette vapour without nicotine during the study and the chemicals were found to be more damaging to a baby mouse’s developing nervous system than tobacco.

“What people don’t realise is that even without nicotine there are many things that are given off when you heat up and vaporise these products,” Prof Zelikoff said.

The British Fertility Society has now recommended women “avoid all kinds of smoking” during pregnancy.

What health professionals say

NHS health professionals do not recommend e-cigarettes in pregnancy. E-cigarettes are not regulated as tobacco products or as medicines in the UK, and so the total list of ingredients is unknown. Nicotine levels also vary from product to product.

Emma Lees-Laing a Midwifery Manager at pregnancy charity Tommy’s confirms, “We advise you to follow the NHS advice. Our advice would be to speak to an NHS Pregnancy Stop Smoking Advisor or nurse at the Smoking Helpline (0800 169 9 169) that has been specifically set up for pregnant women.

When will they be regulated?

The Government has announced plans to regulate electronic cigarettes as medicines from later this year (2016). This means they will face much more stringent testing, and once completed, GPs will be able to prescribe them. However, until this happens, they are only covered by general product safety legislation.

So what do e-cigarettes contain?

The ingredients in an e-cig vary brand by brand, as does the amount of nicotine. 

Manufacturers can make smoking an e-cig (vaping) more appealing to inhale by adding different flavoured substances. Because e-cigs are unregulated, the manufacturers don’t have to tell you exactly what’s been added. The information you get on the packaging is vague.  

We wanted to find out what they do contain so we did some digging. We checked a few e-cigarette sites and found that none of them have a breakdown of ingredients. Words such as liquids and flavourings are bandied around but nothing specific enough for our liking.

Even contacting manufacturer E Lites as a quizzical customer, we were still none the wiser. When we asked for a full list of ingredients, Haden Webster, E Lites Contact Centre Team Leader played the trade secrets card. “Unfortunately I cannot answer your question as this is a closely guarded secret due to the competitive nature of this industry.”

One thing that isn’t secret: most e-cigs contain nicotine

There have been limited studies to determine whether the nicotine found in an e-cigarette is at a high enough dose to affect your unborn baby. The doses are smaller than in cigarettes and you can opt for a low dose version. Again this varies by brand, some are labeled as light whereas others are measured in mg.

According to Public Health England, the amount of nicotine indicated on a cartridge isn’t a reliable indication as to how much nicotine you are inhaling. 

Some e-cigarettes don’t contain any nicotine but if you find you’re not craving the nicotine in cigarettes, ask yourself if you really need them at all.

Aside from nicotine, is there anything else in e-cigarettes that can affect my baby?

Public Health England says, despite some manufacturers’ claims that electronic cigarettes are harmless there has been evidence they could include nasties such as:

  • Small amounts of formaldehyde and acetaldehyde, which are carcinogenic to humans
  • In some cases vapour contains traces of carcinogenic nitrosamines
  • Toxic metals such as cadmium, nickel and lead

Initial tests have shown levels are much, much lower than in normal cigarettes – around one-thousandth of the level. However, it’s suggested that even at very low levels over a period of years, they could be damaging to your health. Frustratingly, it’s not clear if they might cause any long-term damage to your unborn child.

Are e-cigarettes safer than normal cigarettes?

The thinking was that as e-cigs don’t contain tobacco (and hence the tobacco residue tar), they are safer. However, the 2016 research suggests that they are just as unhealthy for your unborn baby.

The clear advice is don’t risk it. 

Should I be worried about people vaping near me when I’m pregnant?

The manufacturers argue that because e-cigs don’t burn tobacco, there’s no smoke and no carbon monoxide for you to passively breathe in, and not enough nicotine emitted for you to be affected. 

However, the new study suggest that the vapour is harmful – so you’d be best to try to avoid breathing it in or standing too close to someone vaping. 

Is it OK to ask someone to stop vaping near you?

MFMer Butterfly31 found herself in just that situation. “I’m currently having driving lessons and I’ve got a new instructor who smokes  e-cigarettes a few times throughout the lesson. My mum and in-laws say I should say to him not to smoke it but I don’t feel like I can.”

With a little encouragement from other MFMers in our forum, Butterfly31 found the confidence to tell the instructor how she felt. “I have spoken to him as I didn’t want to take the chance and he has agreed not to smoke and said he understood my concerns which is good. It was awkward having that discussion but he was actually fine about it so hopefully won’t be an issue.”

How will the new regulations in 2016 affect me if I plan to have a baby after this date?

The good news is that MHRA (Medicines & Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency) will be able to give you proper information about the quality, effectiveness and any health risks of e-cigs. All licensed e-cigarettes will have to meet  the same safety and quality standards as medicines.

The bad news is, not all e-cigarette manufacturers will opt for their product to be licensed, so if you are vaping, make sure you choose a licensed brand so you know what you’re smoking. 

And we don’t know when in 2016 the new regulations will happen, so watch this space…

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