When we studied the knowledge and practice of e-cigarette use among pregnant women in one of our outpatient practices, we found that 43% of more than 300 survey participants believed e-cigarettes are less harmful to a fetus than traditional cigarettes. Just over half – 57% – believed that e-cigarettes contain nicotine.
This study from 5 years ago demonstrated the need for more patient education.1 Today, we have even more clarity that, while there may be health benefits of switching to noncombustible forms of nicotine consumption outside of pregnancy, these potential benefits do not extend to pregnancy. Both human and animal studies have demonstrated that nicotine itself is harmful to the developing fetus; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns against the use of e-cigarettes in pregnancy for this reason.
A 2018 literature review on the use of e-cigarettes in pregnancy and the effects on perinatal/neonatal outcomes reported that the amount of nicotine consumed by e-cigarette users is similar to that of cigarette smokers and that most animal studies suggest a potential danger to the fetus, primarily because of the nicotine.2 Effects on the immune system, neural development, lung function, and cardiac function were all noted in the review. Other research has shown that e-cigarette fluid can contain formaldehyde and other harmful substances.
A new analysis of data from the 2014-2017 National Health Interview Survey shows a significantly lower prevalence of conventional cigarette use among pregnant women than in nonpregnant women, and an almost identical prevalence of e-cigarette use among pregnant and nonpregnant women of reproductive age.3 This discrepancy again suggests that women may not be aware of the potential harms of e-cigarettes in pregnancy, which is not surprising considering that prenatal care clinicians often are not appropriately screening or counseling regarding e-cigarette use.4
and counsel women that the use of e-cigarettes is not a safer alternative to cigarette smoking. I urge patients who have switched to e-cigarettes as a means of smoking cessation or as a choice they perceive to be safer to work together with me to find another way to reduce potential harm to their baby.