Mothers who smoke heavily while being pregnant risk having their children grow up to become repeated criminal offenders, concluded a team of US researchers in a new study.
The scientists say that their findings remain accurate even after accounting for a wide range of family and social factors, like mental illnesses and deprivation, that can influence behaviors.
The authors used data on 3766 adults, aged 33 to 40 years, who were part of the Rhode Island cohort of the Collaborative Perinatal Project, that follows the long-term effects on children of generally widespread factors during pregnancy and around birth.
The kids' mothers took part at the study between 1959 and 1966, and the researchers gathered information on their smoking habits during pregnancy.
All mothers smoking over 20 cigarettes a day were considered heavy smokers.
When all children from these pregnancies reached the age of 33 years, in 1999/2000, their criminal records were verified.
The researchers discovered that children with heavy-smoking mothers during pregnancy were the most likely to have a criminal record as an adult.
The chance of being arrested was actually 30% higher for them, than for kids with non-smoking moms, regardless of being a man or a woman, and they were very likely to be repeat criminal offenders.
The authors explain that “while we cannot definitively conclude that maternal smoking during pregnancy (particularly heavy smoking) is a causal risk factor for adult criminal offending, the current findings do support a modest causal relationship.”
They add that there is however plausible evidence for the biological impact of nicotine on the neurological behavior of the developing brain, and previous research concluded that there is a connection between cigarette smoke exposure while pregnant and a risk that the child suffers from impulsivity, poor attention span and hyperactivity.
This research was a collaboration between the Department of Society, Human Development and Health, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts, the Department of Community Health, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, the Department of Biostatistics, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts, the Laboratory for Psychiatric Biostatistics, McLean Hospital, Belmont, Massachusetts, and the Department of Epidemiology, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts.
The study is published online in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.