Poorer lung function among children exposed to their mothers' cigarette smoke while in the womb

March 20, 2000

Maternal smoking during pregnancy, environmental tobacco smoke exposure and childhood lung function 2000; 55: 271B6

Babies exposed to their mothers' cigarette smoke while in the womb grow into children with compromised lung power, reports research in Thorax.

Various measures of lung capacity were tested in over 3300 schoolchildren between the ages of 10 and 16 living in southern California. They and their parents completed questionnaires about current and previous exposure to household tobacco smoke and whether the mothers had smoked while pregnant.

Having a mother who smoked during the pregnancy was significantly associated with reduced lung function. This was independent of the effects of passive smoking. The effects were particularly noticeable on the small airways, the airflow of which was significantly impaired. The lungs of children exposed to household environmental tobacco smoke were also adversely affected, but the impact was considerably less than that of exposure to the mother's cigarette smoke while in the womb. Environmental tobacco smoke is likely to have an additive affect on lungs that are already compromised at birth, say the authors.

Cigarette smoke may damage the baby's lung at critical points during its development, say the authors, and this may permanently alter the lung's structure and function. Or it could increase susceptibility to respiratory problems just after birth and to infections in early childhood, so compromising lung capacity in later life. The long term effects could be an increased risk of lung chronic lung and cardiovascular diseases, conclude the authors.

Dr Frank Gilliland, or Dr Rob McConnell, Department of Preventive Medicine, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, USA. gillilan@hsc.usc.edu

BMJ Specialty Journals

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