Smoking boys may harm future children’s health.

Smoking boys may harm future children's health.

The Impact of Fathers’ Smoking on Future Generations: A Troubling Revelation

Smoking has long been known to have detrimental effects on one’s health, and we are all aware of the dangers of secondhand smoke. However, recent research has uncovered an even more troubling aspect of smoking – the potential harm it can cause to future generations. A study conducted by researchers from the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom and the University of Bergen in Norway suggests that boys who smoke in their early teens may pass on harmful genetic traits to their future offspring.

The study delved into the genetic profiles of 875 individuals ranging from 7 to 50 years of age, as well as their fathers’ smoking behavior. Astonishingly, it found that individuals whose fathers were early-teen smokers had gene markers associated with asthma, obesity, and low lung function. What is particularly intriguing is that these biomarkers were different from those associated with maternal or personal smoking.

This study is groundbreaking as it sheds light on the biological mechanism behind the impact of fathers’ early smoking on their children, a phenomenon that had not been understood before. “Changes in epigenetic markers were much more pronounced in children whose fathers started smoking during puberty than those whose fathers had started smoking at any time before conception,” said study co-author Negusse Kitaba, a research fellow at the University of Southampton. Early puberty, which is when boys’ stem cells are being established to produce sperm for the rest of their lives, appears to be a critical window for physiological changes that can lead to these harmful genetic effects.

The researchers identified 19 epigenetic changes at 14 gene sites in the children of early-smoking fathers. These changes, which occur in the way DNA is packaged in cells, regulate gene expression and are directly linked to the aforementioned health issues.

Dr. Cecilie Svanes of the University of Bergen, another co-author of the study, emphasized the importance of young people’s actions and decisions in shaping the health of future generations. “It is really exciting that we have now been able to identify a mechanism that explains our observations,” she said. This discovery highlights the urgency of addressing health and lifestyle choices among boys in early puberty and mothers/grandmothers before and during pregnancy.

Interestingly, the researchers found that 16 of the 19 markers associated with fathers’ teenage smoking had not previously been linked to maternal or personal smoking. This indicates that these new methylation biomarkers may be unique to children whose fathers were exposed to smoking during early puberty.

While the number of young smokers in the United Kingdom has decreased, there is cause for concern regarding the growing popularity of vaping. Co-author John Holloway from the University of Southampton expressed worry, stating, “Some animal studies suggest that nicotine may be the substance in cigarette smoke that is driving epigenetic changes in offspring. So, it’s deeply worrying that teenagers today, especially teenage boys, are now being exposed to very high levels of nicotine through vaping.” It is crucial to address this issue promptly and not wait for generations to pass before investigating the potential long-term effects of teenage vaping.

It is important to note that the evidence in this study comes from individuals whose fathers smoked as teens in the 1960s and 1970s when tobacco use was far more prevalent. Nevertheless, the researchers stress that the respiratory health of future generations could be at risk if action is not taken promptly.

These findings, published online in Clinical Epigenetics, highlight the need for greater awareness and education regarding the long-term consequences of smoking and vaping, particularly during crucial periods such as early puberty and pregnancy. The health of future generations depends on the actions and decisions made by young people today. Let us strive to create a healthier and smoke-free environment for our children and the generations to come.

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More information about the dangers of smoking can be found on the website of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

SOURCES: University of Southampton, news release, Aug. 30, 2023