E-cigarettes, also known as vapes, are relatively new, first sold in the United States in 2006. Although often marketed as a safer alternative to conventional cigarettes, there has been little research about their effect on the body. With this in mind, does vaping affect fertility?
- Vaping is often sold as a "safer" form of smoking, but it comes with its own risks.
- There's not a ton of research about vaping and fertility, but many of the ingredients in typical vape liquid — including nicotine, THC, and additives — have a known association with reduced sperm health.
- If you're trying to conceive, you may want to quit or reduce your vaping habit. If you're using vaping as a way to quit smoking, there are safer and more effective methods.
What is vaping?
A vape or e-cigarette enables you to inhale nicotine in a vapor, rather than smoke. The vape device heats a water-based liquid that may contain nicotine, flavorings, and other ingredients. This creates a water vapor that the user inhales. (This works similarly to cannabis vape devices, which contain THC instead of nicotine.)
One benefit of e-cigarettes is that they don’t burn tobacco or create smoke. This means they don’t produce tar or carbon monoxide, which are some of the most damaging elements in tobacco smoke. In fact, there are 7,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke, of which 250 are considered harmful, and 69 are carcinogens (chemicals that cause cancer).
The general safety of vaping
Although considered safer than smoking, vaping is not actually a healthy choice. Vapes still contain nicotine, which is highly addictive, raises your blood pressure and heart rate, and can narrow your arteries.
Research shows that many e-cigarettes also contain other toxic chemicals and metals. The American Lung Association lists some of the more dangerous chemicals and carcinogens found in vapes, including:
- Nicotine, which affects heart rate, blood pressure, blood flow, and arteries, and can increase the risk of a heart attack
- Acrolein, a herbicide which can cause lung damage
- Diethylene glycol and propylene glycol, which are associated with lung disease
- Diacetyl, a chemical linked certain lung diseases
- Heavy metals such as lead
- Cadmium, a toxic metal also found in traditional cigarettes
- Benzene, a carcinogen also found in car exhaust fumes
- Formaldehyde, a highly toxic chemical that is absorbed well by inhalation
- Ultrafine particles that can cause lung damage
In February 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed 2,807 cases, including 68 deaths, of e-cigarette or vaping use-associated lung injury (known as “EVALI”). Researchers identified e-cigarettes containing THC and vitamin E acetate as being strongly linked to EVALI, but we can’t rule out the contribution of other chemicals.
How vaping affects male fertility and sperm health
There are a lot of unknowns about how vaping affects physical health over the long term. Please note — many of the studies on vaping and male fertility have been carried out on animals. While we have some good evidence to suggest that nicotine and vaping may be harmful, there’s still a lot more research needed in this area.
Nicotine and male fertility
Nicotine alone can be a problem. In 2017, a study of rats examined the effects of a chronic low dose of nicotine on sperm characteristics. It found exposure to nicotine was correlated with reduced sperm count, sperm motility, sperm viability, and increased the amount of sperm with abnormal morphology.
Another rat study found that nicotine-only treatment was associated with significantly reduced sperm motility and count, significantly increased abnormal morphology, reduced libido, and even reduced litter weight and number of offspring per litter.
Learn more about tobacco and male fertility.
Vaping and male fertility
Research led by the University College London in 2017 linked flavored e-cigarettes with sperm damage. And in 2020, a study conducted in Denmark found men who vaped had lower sperm counts.
Published in 2020, a systematic review of vaping and male fertility highlighted that the harmful substances in e-cigarettes can disturb the hormonal balance, morphology, and function of the reproductive organs.
Other evidence has found that, even when a vape is nicotine-free, it may still be detrimental to fertility health.
A 2016 study exposed rats to vape refill liquid. This study found that, regardless of whether the vape liquid contained nicotine or not, exposure was associated with decreased testosterone levels, sperm count, and sperm viability. Another study on rats carried out in 2019 with nicotine-free e-cigarette liquid suggested it affected the testes and impaired the male reproductive system.
Although more research on vaping and human fertility is needed, the small evidence bank to date shows that vaping may negatively affect male fertility.
THC and male fertility
What if you’re vaping THC? All of the above issues with additional ingredients in vape liquid still apply. Plus THC, the active ingredient in cannabis, has been linked to male fertility problems.
Studies in 2019 and 2021 — just two of many similar studies — found that cannabis use was associated with a negative impact on male fertility and reduced semen quality, morphology, and volume.
Learn more about cannabis, THC, and male fertility.
Alternative and “health” vapes — will they affect fertility?
A number of products have been introduced in recent years that contain health-conscious ingredients, such as vitamins (especially B vitamins), lavender, peppermint, and amino acids. Research on these “healthy” vapes is basically non-existent. The best way to understand whether they’ll affect your fertility is to look at the full ingredients list, if it’s available.
Is this the best way to take your vitamins? We really have no idea. There’s no research to support the concept that you can absorb B vitamins, amino acids, or other nutrients via inhalation. If you’re looking for a way to increase your nutrient intake, oral supplements are a more proven route.
Learn more about supplements for male fertility.
Should I quit vaping if I’m trying to conceive?
Short answer: maybe. The best way to understand whether your vaping habit is affecting your sperm health is to do a semen analysis.
If your sperm concentration, motility, or morphology are low or borderline and you’re a frequent vaper, quitting or reducing your use may help you improve your fertility.
Sperm testing, from the comfort of home
Sperm is half of the equation when it comes to having kids. Testing gives you the tools you need to understand and optimize your fertility.
See sperm testing options
When it comes to quitting smoking, e-cigarettes might seem like the safer option, but they may not be the best choice for smoking cessation.
Many types of e-cigarettes remain unregulated. Only a handful of e-cigarettes have been given Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval, and to date, the FDA has not approved any e-cigarette as a smoking cessation device.
The American Lung Association offers some top tips to help you quit smoking successfully:
- Think about why you are quitting smoking. Keep your reasons at the forefront of your mind. Once you know your reasons for quitting, you can use them as motivation when it gets tough.
- Understand what to expect. Speak to health care providers, friends, family, or colleagues who all have experience with stopping smoking. Knowing what to expect can help you to prepare.
- Get support. You don't have to do this on your own. You can get help from your health care provider, local or online support groups, and quit smoking helplines.
- Speak to your doctor about nicotine replacement therapy. There are various approved smoking cessation medications, nicotine patches, gums, lozenges, inhalers, and nasal sprays.
- Try to manage your stress. Stress can be a significant trigger to reaching for a cigarette. Try to find ways to manage your stress levels and alternatives to turn to when you feel stressed.
The main thing to remember is it is never too late to quit smoking. Regardless of when you decide to give up, you will still reap the health benefits of quitting — including with your fertility. Sperm health is likely to recover within 3–6 months after you stop smoking.