The first study of its kind has shown that a baby has a greater risk of asthma if their father smoked prior to conception.

Data was presented at the European Respiratory Society congress in Munich of a study which analysed the smoking habits of nearly 13,500 men and women, mainly in Scandiniavia, via a questionnaire. The researchers analysed the link in both mothers and fathers and looked at the number of years a person had smoked prior to conception, the incidence of asthma in children and whether the parent had quit before the baby was conceived.

The results showed that non-allergic asthma (without hayfever) was significantly more common in children with a father who smoked prior to conception. The risk of asthma increased if a father smoked before the age of 15 and grew the longer the duration of smoking. Interestingly, the researchers observed no link between the mother’s smoking prior to conception and a child’s asthma.

Presenting the data, Cecilie Svanes from the University of Bergen in Norway, said that given these results, “we can presume that exposure to any type of air pollution, from occupational to chemical exposures, could also have an effect”. She went on to say it is important for policymakers “to focus on interventions targeting young men and warning them of the dangers of smoking and other exposures to their unborn children in the future”.

Dr Svanes told PharmaTimes that governments need to focus on the very young, especially in areas where smoking is still a common activity, otherwise “it will be a catastrophe”. She added that it is unlikely asthma is the only disease that would be affected by a father’s smoking habits.