Smoking cigarettes while pregnant has previously been linked to birth complications and fetal damage, but a new study suggests that vaping could be a potentially safer option.
New research from Queen Mary University of London found that vaping during pregnancy helped expecting mothers quit smoking cigarettes “without posing any detectable risks to pregnancy.”
The team of researchers found that, after their first trimester, pregnant women who used a nicotine replacement — patches or e-cigarettes — gave birth to babies with birth weights no different from non-smokers and birth weights “significantly higher” than those who smoked at all during pregnancy.
The data suggests that regular use of nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) products did not have any adverse effects on the mother or baby after the first trimester nor is associated with adverse pregnancy events or poor pregnancy outcomes.
“E-cigarettes helped pregnant smokers quit without posing any detectable risks to pregnancy compared with stopping smoking without further nicotine use,” study author Professor Peter Hajek, of the Wolfson Institute of Population Health at the university, said in a statement.
“Using nicotine-containing aids to stop smoking in pregnancy thus appears safe.”
The study contrasts the widely adopted recommendation that vaping — or smoking of any kind — while pregnant is not safe.
Their research, published Wednesday in Addiction Journal, suggests a link between adverse pregnancy outcomes and chemicals in tobacco products, not nicotine.
“The harms to pregnancy from smoking, in late pregnancy at least, seem to be due to other chemicals in tobacco smoke rather than nicotine,” Hajek said.
Other key findings in the study concluded that vapes lessened respiratory infections, possibly because their main ingredients have antibacterial effects.
According to the Mayo Clinic, nicotine can cause permanent damage to the developing fetus’ brain and other organs — not to mention the risk posed by other chemicals and additives in e-cigarettes.
In fact, vapes are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration to quit smoking tobacco, which also has the potential to cause tissue damage in the lungs and brain of the developing fetus.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there may also be a link between smoking cigarettes and miscarriages, pre-term births, low birth weight, weaker lungs and a higher risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
This latest study compared pregnancy outcomes of 1,140 smokers from 23 English hospitals and one Scottish stop-smoking service who wanted help quitting and were not currently using other nicotine products.
Participants — who had been categorized as “smokers,” “abstainers” from smoking, “regular users of nicotine products” or those who reduced smoking by 50%, called “reducers” — provided saliva samples to analyze cotinine levels, a marker of tobacco smoke exposure found in saliva.
The authors only reported salivary data from those who abstained from cigarettes but used other nicotine products, “dual users” who smoked cigarettes and used nicotine products and “reducers” who slashed their smoking habits in half.
This validated the women’s self-reported smoking status and determined whether dual use of products had an impact on nicotine exposure.
The researchers found that both dual users and reducers increased their cotinine levels from baseline, while abstainers who used nicotine replacements decreased their continine levels by 38%.
The team also found that e-cigarettes were more popular than nicotine patches among participants, who all smoked cigarettes during the first trimester.
The authors highlighted the need for further research on pregnant people who are regular vapers and never smoked cigarettes as “such use becomes more common.”