Vaping and male fertility

Cigarette smoke is one of the most well-known toxins negatively affecting human health. Recurrent use has been associated not only with many medical conditions, such as cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, but also with impaired fertility in men. It essentially affects all functions related to reproduction including semen volume, sperm motility (movement), sperm morphology (shape), sperm genetic material, and causes erectile dysfunction [1,2,3]  – Read more about this in our blog post Smoking and How It Affects Your Sperm Quality.

In the last few years, alternative smoking like e-cigarettes, also called vaping, has grown in popularity, promising less intake of the hazardous chemicals.

The major goals for the invention of e-cigarettes were to:

  • Reduce the mortality rate associated with traditional smoking
  • Assist smokers in quitting
  • Reduce the cost of regular cigarettes

How innocent is vaping?

To answer this question, we first need to understand what vaping is and how it works. Vaping is mainly inhalation of the vapor generated from an electronic cigarette. Electronic cigarettes were first introduced to the American market in 2007 and are becoming increasingly popular. The device consists of a mouthpiece, a battery, a microprocessor, a cartridge for containing e-liquid, and a heating component that transforms the liquid into vapor. Since the e-liquid is used to generate the vapor, this is where the harm may arise from. E-liquid contains variable percentages of nicotine mixed with concentrated flavors and other chemicals like propylene glycol, glycerol, ethylene glycol, and polyethylene glycol. Especially the information about the ingredients of the liquid has been found to be insufficient by some manufacturers. Still, e-cigarette manufacturers have made a variety of claims indicating that they are safer than normal cigarettes and that their use facilitates smoking cessation [4]. However, the amount of information is still scarce, and as pointed out in a recent report from the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg, the use of e-cigarettes cannot currently be rated as safe[5].

Can e-cigarettes affect my fertility?

There is not much research on vaping and its effects on fertility – but the limited research out there suggests that it affects fertility in a negative way. One small study, which took place at the University College of London, indicated that the e-liquid in itself could damage sperm cells [6]. The findings were presented at The British Fertility Society, but were never published in a journal for peer-review. For now, there are no published studies investigating the effect on vaping and fertility in males. Animal studies have found that nicotine negatively affects fertility in mammals [7,8] The only study on e-liquids, which was published in 2016, showed that male rats exposed to e-liquids with and without nicotine for four weeks, showed a significant decrease in sperm count of both groups, with the biggest decrease in the nicotine exposed rats, suggesting that e-liquid may harm fertility even without nicotine [9].

Even though there is still not much evidence around vaping’s effects on fertility, the existing evidence suggests that some of the chemicals in the e-liquid, even without nicotine, may be harmful for fertility. Therefore, vaping cannot be considered safe, despite the lack of many harming constituents from regular tobacco. Since nicotine might be one of the harmful components, it is better to assume that not only e-cigarettes, but also chewing tobacco, snuff, and nicotine replacement therapy might harm male fertility. Some of these substances may be used to aid smoking cessation, but we do advise that their use of is minimized or completely avoided, especially for consumers with a goal of conceiving.

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