LONDON — Using e-cigarettes or nicotine patches during pregnancy does not harm the mother or baby, a new study reports. This finding suggests that healthcare professionals should be recommending these methods to pregnant women who are habitual smokers.
Researchers from Queen Mary University of London analyzed data from over 1,100 pregnant smokers attending 23 hospitals in Great Britain and one stop-smoking service in Scotland. The study concludes that regular use of nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) during pregnancy is safe and does not have a link to adverse pregnancy events or negative outcomes.
The research finds that nearly half of the participants (47%) used vapes, while just over a fifth (21%) used nicotine patches. Interestingly, study authors observed that e-cigarettes might reduce respiratory infections, potentially due to the antibacterial effects of their main ingredients.
“The trial contributes answers to two important questions, one practical and one concerning our understanding of risks of smoking. E-cigarettes helped pregnant smokers quit without posing any detectable risks to pregnancy compared with stopping smoking without further nicotine use,” says Professor Peter Hajek from the Wolfson Institute of Population Health at Queen Mary University of London in a media release.
“Using nicotine-containing aids to stop smoking in pregnancy thus appears safe. The harms to pregnancy from smoking, in late pregnancy at least, seem to be due to other chemicals in tobacco smoke rather than nicotine.”
💡How Do E-Cigarettes Work?
- E-cigarettes use a heating element to vaporize a liquid solution called e-liquid
- This process avoids the combustion responsible for harmful chemicals in cigarette smoke
- When heated, the mixture creates a vapor that users inhale, mimicking the sensation of smoking
The research team measured salivary nicotine levels at the beginning and end of pregnancy and collected data on each participant’s use of cigarettes or types of nicotine replacement therapy. They also recorded any respiratory symptoms and gathered data on the birth weight and other metrics of the babies at birth.
“Clinicians, pregnant women and their families have questions about the safety of using nicotine replacement therapy or e-cigarettes during pregnancy. Women who continue to smoke during pregnancy often find it difficult to stop but products like NRT or e-cigarettes can help them to do so,” says Professor Linda Bauld, a co-investigator in the study and Bruce and John Usher Chair in Public Health at the University of Edinburgh. “These results suggest that NRT or vaping can be used as part of a quit attempt without adverse effects. “Our findings should be reassuring, and provide further important evidence to guide decision-making on smoking cessation during pregnancy.”
Women who smoked and used nicotine replacement products during pregnancy had babies with the same birth weights as those who only smoked. However, babies born to non-smoking women did not differ in birth weight, regardless of whether the women used nicotine products. Regular use of nicotine products did not display a link to any adverse effects in mothers or their babies.
“Smoking in pregnancy is a massive public health problem and nicotine-containing aids can help pregnant women to stop smoking, but some clinicians are reticent about providing NRT or e-cigarettes in pregnancy,” adds Prof Tim Coleman from the University of Nottingham’s Smoking in Pregnancy Research Group. “This study provides further, reassuring evidence that tobacco smoke chemicals rather than nicotine are responsible for smoking-related harms, so using nicotine-containing aids to quit is vastly preferable to continuing to smoke when pregnant.”
The research is published in the journal Addiction.
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South West News Service writer Jim Leffman contributed to this report.