People smoke for nicotine, but lose sexual and reproductive health for tar: a narrative review on the effect of cigarette smoking on male sexuality and reproduction

J Endocrinol Invest. 2020 Oct;43(10):1391-1408. doi: 10.1007/s40618-020-01257-x. Epub 2020 Apr 22.


Purpose: To systematically review the impact of smoking habits on cardiovascular (CV) as well as on male sexual and reproductive function and to provide updated evidence on the role of electronic cigarettes (e-Cig) on the same topics.

Methods: A comprehensive Medline, Embase, and Cochrane search was performed including the following words: smoking, CV system, CV risk, erectile dysfunction (ED), and male fertility. Publications from January 1, 1969 up to February 29, 2020 were included.

Results: Smoking has a tremendous negative impact on CV mortality and morbidity. Current smoking behavior is also negatively associated with erectile dysfunction (ED) and impaired sperm parameters. E-Cig can release significantly lower concentrations of harmful substances when compared to regular combustible cigarettes. Whether or not the latter can result in positive CV, sexual, and fertility outcomes is still under study. Preliminary studies showed that exposure to e-Cig leads to lower vascular damage when compared to the traditional cigarette use. However, data on the long-term effects of e-Cig are lacking. Similarly, preliminary data, obtained in animal models, have suggested a milder effect of e-Cig on erectile function and sperm parameters.

Conclusion: Available evidence showed that e-Cig are much less dangerous when compared to the traditional tobacco use. However, it should be recognized that the risk related to e-Cig is still higher when compared to that observed in non-smoking patients. Hence, e-Cig should be considered as a potential tool, in the logic of harm reduction, to reduce the CV, sexual and fertility risk in patients refractory to the fundamental, healthy choice to definitively quit smoking.

Keywords: Cardiovascular risk; Erectile dysfunction; Harm reduction; Male fertility; Smoking; e-cigarette.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Cigarette Smoking / adverse effects*
  • Cigarette Smoking / physiopathology
  • Coal Tar / administration & dosage
  • Coal Tar / adverse effects
  • Humans
  • Infertility, Male / chemically induced*
  • Infertility, Male / epidemiology
  • Infertility, Male / physiopathology
  • Male
  • Nicotine / administration & dosage
  • Nicotine / adverse effects
  • Reproduction / drug effects
  • Reproduction / physiology
  • Reproductive Health
  • Sexual Behavior / drug effects
  • Sexual Behavior / physiology
  • Sexual Dysfunction, Physiological / chemically induced*
  • Sexual Dysfunction, Physiological / epidemiology
  • Sexual Dysfunction, Physiological / physiopathology
  • Tobacco Use Disorder / complications*
  • Tobacco Use Disorder / physiopathology


  • Nicotine
  • Coal Tar