Smoking e-cigarettes during pregnancy causes developmental problems to foetus or newborn infants, a new study finds. Despite considered as a safer and healthier alternative to a regular cigarette, an e-cigarette is just as damaging as tobacco smoke.

The study on mice reveals that the chemicals on an e-cigarette’s vapour interfere with the genes found in the developing frontal cortex, the part of the brain that deals with higher mental function. The researchers say that this can lead to learning, memory and coordination reductions as well as increasing the chances of developing hyperactive behaviour, the same effects that regular smoking during pregnancy inflict on babies. Review Review

Additionally, the chemicals also reduce the sperm count after another study assessed the offsprings of mice that have been exposed to e-cigarette vapour during pregnancy. The animals exposed to e-cigarette vapour without its nicotine even produced more prominent effects, which suggests that other chemicals in the vapour also damage the foetal development. The researchers remark that females were more affected than the males.

Propylene glycol and vegetable glycerine are the two major components in e-cigarettes. Other flavourings may also be added, such as menthol, apple and strawberry.

“Our studies also show that exposure to vapour from electronic cigarettes, in utero and postnatally, drastically reduces sperm counts and sperm mobility in juvenile offspring and brings about gene changes in the brain as well as altered behaviour in adult male and female offspring,” says lead scientist Judith Zelikoff, a professor at the New York University. “This is groundbreaking research. What it shows is that there is certainly some concern over the safety of e-cigarettes.”

Adam Balen, chairman of the British Fertility Society, notes that e-cigarettes help smokers stop smoking but other chemicals added to it can still affect the health of the smoker as well as the baby. Hence, Balen suggests that it is better to avoid all kinds of smoking altogether.