E-cigarette vapor may cause facial birth defects like smoking
Exposure to e-cigarette vapor caused facial deformities in the developing babies of pregnant mice in a new study.
Even doctors have touted vaping as a ‘safer’ alternative to smoking combustible tobacco cigarettes, but, as more research on the devices emerges, evidence suggests that they are not without their own risks.
The new research, carried out by Virginia Commonwealth University, found that flavored e-cigarettes caused particularly severe facial abnormalities, adding to mounting documentation that the sweetening agents have dangerous effects.
According the models they made based on the developmental markers in the embryonic mice, e-cigs may well cause very similar facial birth defects to those seen as a result of cigarette-smoking.
When pregnant mice were exposed to e-cig vapors, their offspring developed birth defects around their jaws and mouths in a new study
E-cigs are more popular than ever, especially among young people, with more than nine million American adults reporting that they vape regularly, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Vape pens spare users’ lungs from the harsh fine particles, tar and other chemicals in traditional tobacco cigarettes, but we have really only just begun to understand the compounds in vape ‘juice’ and how it changes during the process of being heated and inhaled.
The Virginia Commonwealth researchers have taken a particular interest in determining what birth defects might occur if pregnant women are exposed to the vapor, and whether they differed from those caused by cigarette smoke.
A pregnant woman’s smoking habit has long been known to have the potential to cause a cleft lip or palate, and has also been shown to cause small but meaningful changes in the brains of developing babies in some cases.
To test whether or not the same may be true of e-cigarette vapor, the researchers used a special device that simulates e-cigarette puffing.
They exposed female mice to 10 puffs of aerosol, using four different variations of the liquid: two each of unflavored and ‘nut’ flavored and one of each flavor had nicotine while the other was nicotine-free.
When they bred those mice, they found that they carried fewer embryos to begin with than did the group of female mice that were not exposed to vapor.
Then, as those embryos developed, the researchers made 3D recreations of their facial structures by referencing important markers on CT scans of the unborn mice.
The areas around the embryonic mice’s faces were developing to be shorter and more narrow than they typically would be, regardless of whether or not the e-liquid used was flavored.
But the mice whose mothers had been exposed to the nut flavored e-cigarette vapor showed signs of much more dramatic abnormalities to the entire area surrounding their mouths, as well as in their jaws and cheek areas.
Though the Virginia Commonwealth study did not delve into establishing the mechanism behind this cause and effect relationship, other recent work has suggested ways that e-cigarette flavoring and the metal coils used to heat the liquid may play key roles.
Last month, researchers found alarming levels of toxic heavy metals, including cadmium and lead in the systems of vapers.
The metal traces were most likely from the metal coils used to heat the liquid, but other research suggests – including the new study – suggests that the liquid itself may contain dangerous compounds.
E-cigarette vapors are made from a blend of propylene, glycol, vegetable glycerine, flavoring and, in some, nicotine.
In previous work, the research team found that 75 percent of frog embryos that were exposed to the nut-flavored liquid developed cleft palate.
Other research has found that e-cigarette vapor, like cigarette smoke, leaves dangerous levels of many chemicals in the bodies of people who smoke either.
But e-cigarette smokers tend to show particularly high levels of compounds from acrylonitrile, a toxin that can cause everything from skin blisters to nausea, dizziness, confusion and even death at extremely high exposure-levels.
Acrylonitrile has never been shown to cause birth defects in humans, however. The new study’s authors have not revealed the names of the chemicals that may cause the abnormalities in animals.