The negative effects of smoking and nicotine are well known. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, smoking can increase one's risk of contracting heart disease, lung cancer and/or having a stroke. It can also directly affect a fetus if a person smokes while pregnant. However, a new study conducted by researchers at Florida State University and published in PLOS Biology found that a father's exposure to nicotine might also impact his children.
In fact, if a dad is or has been a smoker, it might cause cognitive deficits in his children and grandchildren.
The study, which was conducted on rodents, exposed male mice to nicotine. Researchers found that the mice who were exposed to nicotine had altered sperm, and these changes may lead to genetic problems that play a role in memory and learning.
"Our data raise[s] the possibility that some of the cognitive disabilities found in today's generation of children and adults may be attributable to adverse environmental insults suffered a generation or two ago," Dr. Pradeep Bhide, the Jim and Betty Ann Rodgers eminent scholar chair of developmental neuroscience at Florida State University's College of Medicine, said in a statement. For example, "cigarette smoking was more common and more readily accepted by the population in the 1940s, '50s and '60s compared to today… [and] that exposure [could] be revealing itself as a marked rise in the diagnoses of neurodevelopmental disorders such as ADHD and autism."
That said, the study found that changes in the father's sperm appeared to be temporary. However, Bhide noted that additional research is needed to understand if there are any long-term effects. What's more, further studies will be needed to determine if nicotine impacts human sperm in the same manner as mice.
In the meantime, it's still a good idea to avoid smoking in general.