You may have heard from many sources that you should quit smoking if you’re trying to conceive. Is there any scientific background behind this claim and how does tobacco affect fertility?

Dozens of studies have been published exploring the effect of tobacco on sperm quality, male and female fertility. This amount of data allows us to get a good insight in how smoking can affect our ability to conceive and whether this effect is limited only to men.

What do cigarettes contain?

Once a cigarette is lit, it generates over 4000 compounds through complex chemical processes. The major substances that have the greatest effect to overall health are nicotine, tar and carbon monoxide.

Nicotine is an alkaloid and it functions as a stimulant drug. In a plant, it plays a role of a protective substance against herbivores. The stimulant effect is responsible for the dependence-forming capability of nicotine.

Tar is a black mixture of organic compounds created by the burning of tobacco and other plant materials in cigarettes. Tar is very toxic, it contains many mutagenic and carcinogenic compounds and it is connected to lung cancer. It also damages the mouth, causes teeth decay and gum damage.

Carbon monoxide is a colourless, odourless and tasteless gas that is produced through burning when there isn’t enough oxygen. Carbon monoxide is highly toxic to humans – it is a blood poison that prevent oxygen from being transported throughout our bodies, so the organism becomes oxygen deprived and this can cause many serious, even fatal consequences.

Cigarette bud

Photo credit: Foter / CC BY-SA

How does smoking affect our reproductive ability?

Many studies have shown similar results when it comes to the effect of smoking on sperm quality – smokers usually have lower semen volume, sperm count, sperm mobility and viability compared to non-smokers. Also, smokers show increased numbers of defected spermatozoids.

And smoking is not the only culprit for reduced semen quality – chewing tobacco causes similar effects by significantly decreasing sperm quality and increasing chances for developing oligoasthenozoospermia or azoospermia.

Smoking doesn’t only affect men, ladies…

A few studies have shown a connection between smoking and decreased probability of conception. Smoking also has detrimental effect on a foetus – it can cause foetal growth retardation, neonatal deaths, complications during pregnancy, premature delivery and even long-term effects on children whose mothers smoked during pregnancy. Tobacco also significantly reduces chances of success of an IVF treatment.

In conclusion, if you’re trying to conceive, both partners should quit smoking as soon as possible. Not only that this could boost the sperm parameters, but it also protects your future child from the detrimental effect of cigarette smoke and numerous mutagenic and carcinogenic agents present in it.


Photo credit: the half-blood prince / Foter / CC BY-ND