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London - Women who smoke while pregnant may not only cause health problems for their children – but also their children’s children.

Research suggests the dangers can spill down the generations, with a smoker’s grandchildren also more likely to suffer from asthma.

Experts believe the harm caused by smoking in pregnancy can “switch on” bad genes, which are then passed on. During pregnancy, nicotine can affect a baby’s developing lungs, predisposing the infant to childhood asthma.

Although this risk is well-known, researchers from Harbor-UCLA Medical Centre in California in the US wanted to investigate the implications for future generations.

They tested the effect of nicotine exposure during pregnancy on rats, looking not only at their pups, named F1, but also at second generation pups, F2. The researchers found exposure inside the womb resulted in F1 offspring having reduced lung function consistent with asthma. However, it also impaired lung function of F1’s offspring F2, even though the F1 rats were not exposed to nicotine once they were born. A gene function associated with normal lung development was also reduced in both generations of offspring, says a report published in the journal BMC Medicine.

Dr Virender Rehan, who led the study, said: “The effects of smoking during pregnancy are, it seems, very long lasting.

“Stop-smoking education aimed at mothers-to-be and women planning pregnancy needs to take into account the fact that nicotine itself contains dangers to their children and children’s children.” - Daily Mail