Smoking during pregnancy can harm the baby’s developing brain.

Smoking in pregnancy can cause harm to the child’s developing brain that puts them at greater risk of having a long-term criminal record, claim researchers.


Scientists claim that mothers who behave like January Jone’s Mad Men character Betty Draper and puff away while expecting can cause harm to a baby’s developing brain.

Those whose mothers smoked 20 cigarettes a day were more likely to become repeat offenders when they grew up.

The US researchers looked at factors such as mental ill health and deprivation which are known to put children on the path to criminal careers.

Even after these have been taken into account, the offspring of heavy smokers are a third more likely to have ever been arrested as adults.

This suggests exposure to cigarette smoke in the womb may harm developing areas of the brain that affect behaviour, impairing the transmission of chemical signals important for attention and impulse control.

The study of almost 4,000 adults, who were followed until they were aged between 33 and 40, is published online in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

The analysis was part of a bigger project tracking the long term effects on children of factors during pregnancy and around birth.

Mothers were enrolled in the study between 1959 and 1966, and information collected on their smoking habits during pregnancy.

Heavy smokers were classified as those smoking 20 or more cigarettes a day.

In 1999/2000, when all the children from these pregnancies had reached at least 33 years of age, the researchers checked them for criminal records.

The findings showed that children whose mothers had smoked heavily during the pregnancy were the most likely to have a criminal record as an adult.

They had a 30 per cent increased chance of having been arrested, and this applied to women just as much as it did to men even though statistically women are less likely to obtain a criminal record.

The children of women who smoked heavily during the pregnancy were also more likely to be repeat criminal offenders as adults.

Dr Angela Paradis, of Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, who led the study, said it was not possible to ‘definitively’ describe heavy smoking as a cause of adult criminal offending, but the results support a ‘modest causal relationship’.

She said there was research evidence showing a biological effect of nicotine on the neurobehavioural pathways of the developing brain.

Heaviest exposure would have the biggest impact, she added.

Previous research found a link between exposure to cigarette smoke while in the womb and a higher risk of poor attention span, impulsivity and hyperactivity.

In the UK, warnings by doctors about the effects of smoking on the unborn baby were made in 1971, while the first national no smoking campaign was launched in 1974.

Professor Kate Pickett, Department of Health Sciences, University of York, said ‘This study adds to a substantial body of evidence linking smoking in pregnancy to difficult temperament in infants, behaviour problems in children, and antisocial behaviour in adult offspring. 

‘These relationships seem to be robust, and can be seen even after accounting for many differences between women who smoke and those who manage to quit, or never smoke in pregnancy. 

‘However, we also know that smoking in pregnancy is related to multiple and complex challenges faced by women in their own lives, in their family circumstances and in the neighbourhoods in which they raise their families.

‘Women need interventions and encouragement to help them quit smoking, but they also need joined-up services and support to help them be the best parents they can.’

Dr Ron Gray, National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit, University of Oxford, said ‘Whether or not mothers’ smoking during pregnancy causes criminal offending in their children – and this well conducted study strongly suggests that it might – there is abundant evidence that it causes stillbirth, low birth weight and infant death, as well as damaging the mothers’ own health.’

Professor James Walker, Vice President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) said ‘Smoking harms the pregnant woman and the developing fetus.  The risks include low birthweight, preterm birth and stillbirth.

‘Post-birth, if the mother smokes, very often, so will the father and the baby is doubly exposed to toxic fumes.  We need to do what we can to inform women of the risks of smoking to them and their babies.

‘We must provide them with the support they need to kick the habit.  Women who find it difficult to quit smoking when pregnant should be encouraged to reduce their smoking at the very least.’

Via Daily Mail