Another wave of evidence against tobacco use was released this week, with evidence from a Dutch research team showing parents smoking causing vascular damage in young children.

Published in Pediatrics, 5 years ago, the scientists began collecting data from 259 children at the age of four weeks, gathering data about their parents smoking habits and studying their cardiovascular health until the age of 5. Specifically, they looked at the children’s carotid artery intima-media thickness (CIMT) and arterial wall distensibility, using ultrasonography to take the measurements.

The evidence is fairly conclusive and shows that children whose mothers smoked during pregnancy had on average carotid arteries showing 15% more stiffness, as well as arterial thickening of 19 microns, (which is about the thickness of a cassette tape) compared with their smoke free peers. Where both mother and father smoked during the pregnancy the stiffness rose to 21% and thickening to 28 microns.

The scientists state that they were unable to find an effect from fathers smoking during pregnancy or from mothers that began smoking after giving birth, showing that the primary damage is from the mother smoking while carrying the fetus.

Uiterwaal, an associate professor of clinical epidemiology at the Julius Center for Health Sciences and Primary Care at the University Medical Center Utrecht, Netherlands, said :

“…With our findings, we think that smoking in pregnancy does play an independent role, although we know that exposure of children to [secondhand] smoke is damaging in many areas.”

Researchers pointed out that nearly twenty percent of U.S. adults smoke, with around half of children showing biochemical evidence of exposure to tobacco smoke, or passive smoking as it is known.

Authors and pediatricians Susanne Tanski, MD, MPH, of Dartmouth College and Karen Wilson, MD, MPH, of the University of Rochester write that :

“There is no known safe level of exposure.”

Although of course there are hundreds of other chemicals we are exposed to daily, from car fumes, brake pad dust, to household cleaning chemicals, paints and glues, that are just as aggressive and harmful as tobacco smoke.

Nonetheless Uiterwaal’s study, as Tanski and Wilson write :

“… Provides one more piece of evidence for the importance of smoking cessation, in particular, among families with young children and those planning to have children.” Anyone interested in quitting smoking should contact their local family doctor or try online at

Written by Rupert Shepherd