Individuals who smoke generally do so with the knowledge of potential consequences to their own health. What is rarely considered are the effects of smoking on their future children. The objective of this work was to review the scientific literature on the effects of paternal smoking on sperm and assess the consequences to offspring. A literature search identified over 200 studies with relevant data in humans and animal models. The available data were reviewed to assess the weight of evidence that tobacco smoke is a human germ cell mutagen and estimate effect sizes. These results were used to model the potential increase in genetic disease burden in offspring caused by paternal smoking, with specific focus on aneuploid syndromes and intellectual disability, and the socioeconomic impacts of such an effect. The review revealed strong evidence that tobacco smoking is associated with impaired male fertility, and increases in DNA damage, aneuploidies, and mutations in sperm. Studies support that these effects are heritable and adversely impact the offspring. Our model estimates that, with even a modest 25% increase in sperm mutation frequency caused by smoke-exposure, for each generation across the global population there will be millions of smoking-induced de novo mutations transmitted from fathers to offspring. Furthermore, paternal smoking is estimated to contribute to 1.3 million extra cases of aneuploid pregnancies per generation. Thus, the available evidence makes a compelling case that tobacco smoke is a human germ cell mutagen with serious public health and socio-economic implications. Increased public education should be encouraged to promote abstinence from smoking, well in advance of reproduction, to minimize the transmission of harmful mutations to the next-generation.
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