Researchers found that e-cigarettes can harm the nervous system of unborn and newborn babies. Moreover, exposure to the vapor during pregnancy can be as damaging as exposure to tobacco smoke.

Based on a previous mice study, "relatively low" exposure to the e-cigarette chemicals affected the activity of genes in the developing frontal cortex of the fetal brain. When the disrupted gene activity was analyzed, findings suggested that it could lead to decreased memory, learning and coordination. It could also result in increased hyperactive behavior and risk of developing attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

In a new and on-going study led by New York University's Professor Judith Zelikoff, older mice that were exposed to the e-cigarette vapor immediately after birth or whose mothers were exposed during pregnancy appeared hyperactive.

"This is groundbreaking research. What it shows is that there is certainly some concern over the safety of e-cigarettes, particularly in relation to pregnant women or young infants," said Zelikoff who highlighted that even without the presence of nicotine, chemicals associated with e-cigarettes can be harmful.

The new findings revealed that other chemicals found in e-cigarettes can carry a bigger effect in the unborn child's developing nervous system. During the altered gene activity analysis, the mice subjected to e-cigarette vapor minus the nicotine ended up with the most gene variations.

The first study involved up to 40 pregnant mice who were exposed to e-cigarette vapor with and without the nicotine, for about three weeks. This length covered the entire duration of their pregnancy. The 4-day-old mice were also exposed for three weeks. The second study analyzed about 60 mice that were about three-months-old. The mice that were exposed to e-cigarette vapor with and without the nicotine showed higher activity levels in both sexes.

British Fertility Society's Chairman Adam Balen said that while e-cigarettes can help smokers to quit the habit, the chemicals still carry health risks not just for the adult using it but for the unborn and newborn babies as well.

"It may therefore be wrong to switch during pregnancy and best to avoid all kinds of smoking," added Balen.

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