Joins List of Tobacco's Health Hazards
Holly Firfer & Reuters
Cable News Network
March 14, 1999
ATLANTA (CNN) -- Men whose mothers smoke often during pregnancy may be
more prone to violent and criminal behavior than the adult sons of women
who abstain from tobacco, according to research published Sunday.
The study is apparently the first to link adult criminal behavior to
maternal smoking, researchers said. Other research has investigated a similar
link between mothers and their adolescent children.
The more women smoked in their third trimester, the higher the rate of
criminal arrests of their male children, said Dr. Patricia Brennan of Emory
University in Atlanta.
Emory researchers examined the criminal records of male children born
to more than 4,000 women in Denmark who, from 1959 to 1961, kept diaries
of their smoking habits while pregnant.
Thirty-four years later, police records of the women's sons showed that
only 8 percent of the men born to women who did not smoke were likely to
commit a violent crime. That percentage nearly doubled among the adult sons
of women who smoked 10 to 20 cigarettes a day, the study showed.
The scientists factored out other possible influences on behavior, including
drug use during pregnancy, the father's criminal history and the family's
"Our results support the hypothesis that maternal smoking during
pregnancy is related to increased rates of crime in adult offspring,"
said the study, published in the March issue of the Archives of General
Psychiatry, an American Medical Association publication.
"This general finding is consistent with the literature linking
behavior problems, conduct disorder and adolescent offending to prenatal
maternal smoking," the report concluded. "Our study extended these
findings by showing that maternal smoking is related to persistent offending
rather than to adolescent-limited offending."
Damage to the fetus' central nervous system could be the reason for the
behavioral effect, researchers speculated. Nicotine may cause changes in
the fetal brain that can affect behavior and possibly contribute to aggression.
Compared with males whose mothers did not smoke during the third trimester,
males whose mothers smoked more than 20 cigarettes a day during that stage
were 1.6 times as likely to be arrested for nonviolent crime, 2.0 times
as likely to be arrested for violent crime and 1.8 times as likely to be
persistent offenders, the researchers found.
The findings agreed with a 1992 Finnish study that followed 5,996 men
for a shorter time, scientists said.
Still, researchers stopped short of claiming a cause-and-effect relationship
between maternal smoking and adult male crime.
Just because a woman smokes during pregnancy does not mean her son will
commit a violent crime, and crime won't disappear if pregnant women stop
smoking, Brennan said.
David Fergusson, a psychiatric epidemiologist at the Christchurch School
of Medicine in New Zealand who wrote an editorial accompanying the report,
said genetics, not tobacco, could be to blame.
"Mothers who smoke during pregnancy are often young women who have
previous misconduct problems, and there is quite an inheritability of misconduct
problems," Fergusson said Sunday.
The study did not look at the police records of daughters born to smokers.
Researchers said there may not be a similar outcome for adult daughters
because, in laboratory tests on animals, the male brain is more reactive
to nicotine than the female brain.
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