Nicotine exposure from e-cigarettes may damage the developing brains of infants in the womb, as well as the brains of children and adolescents. That’s the conclusion of a new review of nicotine’s effects on animals by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The report was published in the March issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
The harm in the animal brains occurs in areas involved in thinking and language development and short- and long-term memory, according to the review’s senior author, Tim McAfee, M.D., M.P.H., director of the CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health. The vapor in e-cigarettes contains nicotine, which can be inhaled by kids who are near people using these devices. Children can also be exposed to nicotine from surfaces where it has accumulated from the vapor. If children touch those surfaces and then place their hands into their mouths, they can potentially be exposed to nicotine.
It remains unclear exactly how much nicotine exposure developing babies, children and teens are getting from e-cigarettes, as well as what the potential harms are from that exposure, he said. And the amount of nicotine an e-cigarette delivers depends on the type of e-cigarette and can vary from as little as the equivalent of half a cigarette to as much as that of a whole cigarette.
E-cigarettes may help people trying to give up cigarettes, Dr. McAfee said, but they shouldn’t be used by pregnant women. In pregnant women, the developing fetus is exposed to nicotine from e-cigarettes because the mother’s blood is shared with the fetus.