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Fertility And Vaping

The British Fertility Society is being reported as making claims that vaping negatively impacts on male fertility – but it appears to be based on a study that was never published

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The British Fertility Society is being reported as making claims that vaping negatively impacts on male fertility – but it appears to be based on a study that was never published. Following closely on false news that vaping causes impotence, the truth is something that newspapers don’t seem keen on sharing.

E-cigarettes can damage men's fertility,” screamed the Daily Mail. “E-cigarettes are listed as a factor affecting men’s testicular health,” worried Nokia Mobile Phone News.

What is going on here?

The British Fertility Society is warning men not to vape, smoke, smoking, use steroids, drinking too much alcohol, place a laptop on their lap or take a long hot bath.

Part of this warning included Newcastle University fertility specialist Kevin McEleny saying: “We know e-cigarette flavourings can be toxic to sperm. There are real concerns about these devices’ effect on male fertility because they do not go through the same kinds of rigorous checks as drugs do. I certainly tell men going through IVF that they should not be vaping if possible, although cigarette smoking is likely to be worse.”

Dr Raj Mathur of the British Fertility Society admitted they don’t have large scale data to base their claims on. In fact, it appears they are limited to a single study they claim was conducted by University College London.

Links provided direct readers to a 2018 podcast featuring Professor Robert West carried by BBC World Service. The podcast is no longer accessible.

West’s actual comments included: “What West has said about vaping: “Toxic chemicals in the e-cigarette vapour is substantially lessI would bet my house on e-cigarettes being substantially safer than smoking.”

Professor West neither conducted the fertility research nor commented on it.

Professor West on vaping

The research was led by Dr Helen O'Neill and presented to the 2017 British Fertility Society conference. It went under the title of “Effect of Electronic-cigarette flavourings on human sperm motility, chromatin integrity in vitro and mice testicular function in vivo”, but has never been published or peer-reviewed. It is not listed in Dr Helen O'Neill’s published works.

Planet of the Vapes covered the pre-conference comments at the time.

In our coverage, we pointed out that sperm was collected from male subjects and placed into dishes where it was then submerged in various flavours of e-liquid.

O’Neill’s team then noticed sperm motility decreased, meaning they moved slower. Fingers were pointed at cinnamon and bubblegum flavours being the worst offenders.

POTV reader Dave summed up the credence anyone should attach to such a study: “‘Flavours were added directly into dishes of sperm’, I know that that's how I like to vape.”

The other study featuring in some coverage involved injecting rats daily in the stomach with e-liquid for a four-week period. Again, not even remotely similar to studying the impact of vaping.

While this doesn’t mean there is no impact on male fertility, the evidence being relied upon by The British Fertility Society is exceptionally weak. At best, it should be confining itself to advising men not to eat cinnamon or chew bubblegum – or inject e-liquid into their gut.

Dave Cross avatar

Dave Cross

Journalist at POTV
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Dave is a freelance writer; with articles on music, motorbikes, football, pop-science, vaping and tobacco harm reduction in Sounds, Melody Maker, UBG, AWoL, Bike, When Saturday Comes, Vape News Magazine, and syndicated across the Johnston Press group. He was published in an anthology of “Greatest Football Writing”, but still believes this was a mistake. Dave contributes sketches to comedy shows and used to co-host a radio sketch show. He’s worked with numerous vape companies to develop content for their websites.

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