The research, presented on Monday at the European Respiratory Society (ERS) International Congress in Munich, Germany, showed that non-allergic asthma is more common in infants whose fathers smoked prior to conception.
The study, the first to observe this association in humans, adds to growing evidence from animal studies which suggest a father’s exposure before parenthood can have a lasting impact on the health of his children.
Researchers analysed the smoking habits of over 13,000 men and women. Participants answered a questionnaire that looked at the number of years mothers and fathers had smoked prior to conception, the incidence of asthma in children, and whether the parent had quit before the baby was conceived.
While there was no link between the mother’s smoking prior to conception and a child’s asthma, it was more prevalent in children with a father who smoked.
The risk of asthma increased the longer the father had smoked and was higher if he had smoked since before the age of 15.
Dr Cecile Svanes from the University of Bergen, Norway, said: ‘This study is important as it is the first study looking at how a father’s smoking habit pre-conception can affect the respiratory health of his children.
‘Given these results, we can presume that exposure to any type of air pollution, from occupational exposures to chemical exposures, could also have an effect.
‘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.’