E-cigs 'may damage brain function of unborn babies'
Pregnant women who smoke may harm their babies' brain development if they turn to e-cigarettes to satisfy their nicotine craving, scientists have warned.
New research suggests that e-cigarette vapour may be as damaging as tobacco smoke to the nervous systems of the foetus or newborn infant.
The early findings, based on studies of mice, show that exposure to volatile chemicals from the devices disrupts thousands of genes in the developing frontal cortex, the brain region responsible for higher mental functions.
Analysis indicated it could lead to reductions in learning, memory and co-ordination, and increases in hyperactive behaviour.
These are just the sort of neurological effects seen in children whose mothers smoked during pregnancy and who are known to be at risk of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and learning difficulties.
A further study has shown that older mice exposed to e-cigarettes in the womb or just after birth do indeed appear to be hyperactive, running around at a faster rate than normal.
Lead scientist Professor Judith Zelikoff, from New York University in the US, said: "There is certainly some concern over the safety of e-cigarettes, particularly in relation to pregnant women or young infants.
"There are potential dangers revealed by these studies indicating a possible impact to the unborn child that may be seen at birth but may occur later in the life of the child.
"Women may be turning to these products as an alternative because they think they're safe. Well, they're not."