Electronic cigarettes may not be a "safer alternative" of conventional cigarettes during pregnancy: evidence from the nationally representative PRAMS data

BMC Pregnancy Childbirth. 2020 Sep 23;20(1):557. doi: 10.1186/s12884-020-03247-6.


Background: Conventional cigarette (CC) smoking is one of the most preventable causes of adverse birth outcomes. Although electronic cigarettes (ECs) are considered to be safer than CCs during pregnancy, the evidence is yet to be presented. This study examines the effects of prenatal EC use on neonatal birth outcomes compared to those of CC smokers and complete tobacco abstainers.

Methods: Data was extracted from 55,251 pregnant women who participated in the Phase 8 survey of the Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System between 2016 and 2018. Participants were classified into three groups based on their smoking behaviors in the third trimester: complete tobacco abstinence, exclusive CC smoking, or exclusive EC use. Adverse outcomes included infants being small-for-gestational-age (SGA), having low birthweight (LBW), and being born at preterm. EC users were matched to complete abstainers and CC smokers who share the same baseline characteristics in race/ethnicity, age, educational attainment, income, prenatal care adequacy, and first- and second-trimester CC smoking statuses. The association between EC use and adverse birth outcomes were examined by survey-weighted logistic regression analyses in the matched population.

Results: Among participants, 1.0% of women reported having used ECs during the third trimester, 60% of which reported using ECs exclusively. Neonates of EC users were significantly more likely to be SGA (OR 1.76; 95% CI 1.04, 2.96), have LBW (OR 1.53; 95% CI 1.06, 2.22), or be born preterm (OR 1.86; 95% CI 1.11, 3.12) compared to tobacco abstainers. However, odds of EC users' pregnancies resulting in SGA (OR 0.67; 95% CI 0.30, 1.47), LBW (OR 0.71; 95% CI 0.37, 1.37), or preterm birth (OR 1.06; 95% CI 0.46, 2.48) were not significantly lower than those of CC smokers.

Conclusions: Even after accounting for shared risk factors between prenatal tobacco use and adverse birth outcomes, EC use remains an independent risk factor for neonatal complications and is not a safer alternative to CC smoking during pregnancy. Until further research is completed, all pregnant women are encouraged to abstain from all tobacco products including ECs.

Keywords: Adverse birth outcomes; Electronic cigarette; PRAMS; Prenatal tobacco use.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cigarette Smoking / adverse effects*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant, Low Birth Weight
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / epidemiology
  • Pregnancy Complications / etiology*
  • Pregnancy Outcome*
  • Premature Birth / epidemiology
  • Vaping / adverse effects*
  • Young Adult