In a study published in the January 2006 issue of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, plastic surgeons found that smoking during pregnancy increases the risk of having a child with excess, missing, or webbed fingers and toes.

Study author Benjamin Chang, MD, says reconstruction to repair limb, toe, and finger abnormalities represents a large portion of his practice.

“Parents would ask why this happened to their child, but I didn’t have an answer,” Chang says. “This study shows that even minimal smoking during pregnancy can significantly increase the risk of having a child with various toe and finger defects.”

Researchers examined the records of more than 6.8 million live births in the United States during 2001 and 2002 and found 5,171 children born with digital anomalies to mothers who smoked during pregnancy and had no other medical complications. They discovered that pregnant women who smoked one to 10 cigarettes per day had a 29% greater risk of having a child with a toe or finger deformity than nonsmoking women.

According to Chang, the researchers didn’t expect the results to be so dramatic.

“Smoking is so addictive that pregnant women often can’t stop the habit, no matter what the consequences,” Chang says.

Another study published in the February 2006 issue of Anesthesiology found that surgical patients who are nonsmokers, or who stop smoking prior to surgery, have a better recovery period than smokers. The study also revealed that anesthesia is safer for nonsmokers, because their hearts, blood vessels, lungs, and nervous systems function better than smokers’ do.

“Abstaining from cigarettes promotes faster healing and less risk of wound infection. Plus, the patient may be in an ideal position to avoid some of the problems with nicotine withdrawal and other discomforts associated with quitting,” says David O. Warner, MD, a Mayo Clinic anesthesiologist. “This increases the chance for long-term success with smoking cessation.”