Prenatal and prepubertal exposures to tobacco smoke in men may cause lower lung function in future offspring: a three-generation study using a causal modelling approach

Eur Respir J. 2021 Oct 21;58(4):2002791. doi: 10.1183/13993003.02791-2020. Print 2021 Oct.


Mechanistic research suggests that lifestyle and environmental factors impact respiratory health across generations by epigenetic changes transmitted through male germ cells. Evidence from studies on humans is very limited.We investigated multigeneration causal associations to estimate the causal effects of tobacco smoking on lung function within the paternal line. We analysed data from 383 adult offspring (age 18-47 years; 52.0% female) and their 274 fathers, who had participated in the European Community Respiratory Health Survey (ECRHS)/Respiratory Health in Northern Europe, Spain and Australia (RHINESSA) generation study and had provided valid measures of pre-bronchodilator lung function. Two counterfactual-based, multilevel mediation models were developed with: paternal grandmothers' smoking in pregnancy and fathers' smoking initiation in prepuberty as exposures; fathers' forced expiratory volume in 1 s (FEV1) and forced vital capacity (FVC), or FEV1/FVC z-scores as potential mediators (proxies of unobserved biological mechanisms that are true mediators); and offspring's FEV1 and FVC, or FEV1/FVC z-scores as outcomes. All effects were summarised as differences (Δ) in expected z-scores related to fathers' and grandmothers' smoking history.Fathers' smoking initiation in prepuberty had a negative direct effect on both offspring's FEV1 (Δz-score -0.36, 95% CI -0.63- -0.10) and FVC (-0.50, 95% CI -0.80- -0.20) compared with fathers' never smoking. Paternal grandmothers' smoking in pregnancy had a negative direct effect on fathers' FEV1/FVC (-0.57, 95% CI -1.09- -0.05) and a negative indirect effect on offspring's FEV1/FVC (-0.12, 95% CI -0.21- -0.03) compared with grandmothers' not smoking before fathers' birth nor during fathers' childhood.Fathers' smoking in prepuberty and paternal grandmothers' smoking in pregnancy may cause lower lung function in offspring. Our results support the concept that lifestyle-related exposures during these susceptibility periods influence the health of future generations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Adult Children
  • Child
  • Forced Expiratory Volume
  • Humans
  • Lung
  • Middle Aged
  • Pregnancy
  • Smoking / adverse effects
  • Tobacco
  • Tobacco Smoke Pollution* / adverse effects
  • Vital Capacity
  • Young Adult


  • Tobacco Smoke Pollution