The Role of Nicotine in the Effects of Maternal Smoking during Pregnancy on Lung Development and Childhood Respiratory Disease. Implications for Dangers of E-Cigarettes

Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2016 Mar 1;193(5):486-94. doi: 10.1164/rccm.201510-2013PP.


Use of e-cigarettes, especially among the young, is increasing at near-exponential rates. This is coupled with a perception that e-cigarettes are safe and with unlimited advertising geared toward vulnerable populations, the groups most likely to smoke or vape during pregnancy. There is now wide appreciation of the dangers of maternal smoking during pregnancy and the lifelong consequences this has on offspring lung function, including the increased risk of childhood wheezing and subsequent asthma. Recent evidence strongly supports that much of the effect of smoking during pregnancy on offspring lung function is mediated by nicotine, making it highly likely that e-cigarette use during pregnancy will have the same harmful effects on offspring lung function and health as do conventional cigarettes. In fact, the evidence for nicotine being the mediator of harm of conventional cigarettes may be most compelling for its effects on lung development. This raises concerns about both the combined use of e-cigarettes plus conventional cigarettes by smokers during pregnancy as well as the use of e-cigarettes by e-cigarette-only users who think them safe or by those sufficiently addicted to nicotine to not be able to quit e-cigarette usage during pregnancy. Thus, it is important for health professionals to be aware of the risks of e-cigarette usage during pregnancy, particularly as it pertains to offspring respiratory health.

Keywords: asthma; lung development; nicotinic receptor; pulmonary function.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Asthma / chemically induced*
  • Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lung / drug effects
  • Lung / embryology*
  • Nicotine / adverse effects*
  • Nicotine / pharmacology
  • Nicotinic Agonists / adverse effects*
  • Nicotinic Agonists / pharmacology
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / chemically induced*
  • Respiratory Sounds
  • Smoking / adverse effects*


  • Nicotinic Agonists
  • Nicotine