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Let's talk smoking, vaping, and your fertility

5 min read

Nicotine product use — and dependence — isn’t good for your health, period. Its effects on reproductive health are also well documented. But what about vaping? Is it just as bad? Below, we'll give you the lowdown on the impact of both vaping and smoking on your fertility and answer these questions:

  • What should you know about smoking’s impact on fertility?
  • When can you quit smoking in order to reverse the effects?
  • Can secondhand smoke impact your fertility?
  • Is vaping a healthier alternative to smoking?
  • Can vaping adversely impact your fertility too?

Cigarette smoking and fertility

The science is unequivocal on this one: In addition to the detrimental long-term health effects of smoking (cardiovascular disease, lung cancer, strokes, rheumatoid arthritis), it can also impact your fertility. Nicotine, cyanide, and carbon monoxide, the chemicals in cigarette smoke, may speed up the loss of your eggs and impair the quality of eggs and the function of your ovaries. Smoking may also result in earlier menopause (one to four years before non-smokers) and may contribute to a failure to conceive. It’s also a risk factor for ectopic pregnancy (that's when the fertilized egg attaches in a place other than the uterus).

According to the “Smoking and Infertility” committee opinion by American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), “Even at one-half pack per day use, female cigarette consumption has been associated consistently with decreased fecundity.” (Fecundity = fertility.)

Sperm quality is also adversely affected by smoking, in terms of sperm motility (that's sperm’s ability to move), sperm count, the shape of sperm (higher number of abnormally shaped sperm), and a decrease in the ability for sperm to fertilize eggs.

But quitting smoking makes a huge difference in your health — and that includes your fertility: Positive changes in eggs can be seen in women three months after smoking cessation. Men are advised to wait three months after quitting smoking before testing for improvement in sperm quality.

What about secondhand smoke?

A study published in the journal Tobacco Control in November 2016 examined the association between secondhand smoke consumption and early menopause (before age 50). It found that those who did not smoke, but were exposed to the highest levels of secondhand smoke, reached menopause 13 months before their non-smoking peers who had not been exposed to secondhand smoke. If you don't smoke, but your partner does (or vice versa), keep in mind that secondhand smoke is also problematic.

What about vaping?

Vaping is an alternative to traditional cigarettes that involves inhaling vapors produced by an electronic cigarette (or similar device). E-cigarettes (like JUUL) are essentially electronic nicotine delivery systems. To vape, you use a device with a cartridge containing nicotine (or tetrahydrocannabinol aka THC, the psychoactive component of the marijuana plant) and propylene glycol, and a battery. When you inhale, the nicotine is vaporized through the mouthpiece.

E-cigarette use isn't regulated in the same way as traditional cigarettes, which means there’s a lot we don’t know about what might be going into the body. For a long time, e-cigarettes were viewed as safe, but research reveals that there are possible dangers.

As of January 21, 2020, 2,711 cases of e-cigarette or vaping associated lung injury (EVALI) have been reported. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the illnesses can be traced back to vitamin E acetate, a chemical used as an additive or thickener in some vaping products. In October 2019, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning to the public to refrain from using any vaping supplies containing THC or any vaping products that come from an unknown source.

Even before the EVALI outbreak, though, there was evidence that vaping isn't safe. A study published in Environmental Science & Technology in July 2016 identified harmful emissions in e-cigarette vapor, including carcinogens and irritants. These irritants were found at a much lower level than in conventional cigarettes, but they were present enough to be dangerous. The American Heart Association makes it clear that vaping isn’t a safer alternative to tobacco products — and it's not always a successful way to cut down on cigarette smoking.

Scientists are currently conducting studies to evaluate the relationship between vaping and cancer, as well as vaping and cardiovascular health.

So, can vaping impact fertility?

The more research that's done, the more it's confirmed that vaping does impact fertility. Researchers at University College 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: The bubblegum flavor killed off cells in the testicles and the cinnamon flavor negatively impacted sperm motility. Research done by the Baptist University in Hong Kong demonstrated a link between the toxins found in e-cigarettes and fertility issues as well. Following the study, Hong Kong called for an immediate and total ban on all e-cigarettes.

A new study conducted by scientists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and published in the Journal of the Endocrine Society suggests that using e-cigarettes before conceiving delays implantation of a fertilized embryo in the uterus, thereby delaying and reducing fertility. The study also revealed that e-cigarette usage by pregnant women altered the long-term health and metabolism of female offspring. According to Kathleen Caron, PhD, an author on the study, their findings have changed how e-cigarettes are generally perceived.

Kicking the habits

If you plan on getting pregnant in the future, staying away from all nicotine and vaping is a good idea. But both smoking cigarettes and vaping can be hard habits to kick. According to the American Cancer Society, there are a few methods to try:

  • Medications: The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved seven types of smoking cessation medications to safely and effectively help people quit smoking, including: nicotine gum, patches, lozenges, inhalers, nasal sprays, and two drugs (Zyban and Chantix).
  • Counseling: Therapy, group counseling, and telephone counseling are all proven to help. For example, people who use telephone counseling have twice the success rate in quitting smoking as those who don’t use that type of help. (In fact, every state offers a free telephone-based program — you can call the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345 to get help finding a phone counseling program in your area.) You can also find support in your community and talk with your healthcare provider about what steps to take.
  • Apps: The National Cancer Institute has a quit-smoking app.

One more thing before you go

Whether you’ve smoked before, still smoke, or have never touched a cigarette, understanding your hormones is essential to moving forward with your plans for kids (whether that's soon or in the far future). Check out what Modern Fertility has to offer — our simple at-home test will give you information on your hormones, your ovarian reserve, and what it all means in terms of your fertility.

Plus, you’ll also get access to our fertility planning tool — a totally personalized way to start planning for kids, whenever you’re thinking about having them. It features over 50 of the best recommendations from doctors and the latest research (including smoking).

This article was medically reviewed by a member of the Modern Fertility Medical Advisory Board.

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Chanel Dubofsky

Chanel's writing has appeared in Cosmo, Rewire, Lilith, HelloFlo, & Extra Crispy. She has an MFA in Fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts & lives in New York. Follow her @chaneldubofsky.

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