Women who smoke heavily while pregnant are more likely to have children that become criminals, a study has suggested.
Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health in the US found that the link between excessive smoking and criminal activity exists regardless of the child’s social circumstances.
The study also showed an increased risk for women who smoke 20 or more cigarettes a day during pregnancy.
More than 3,700 mothers took part in the research between 1959 and 1966. They were asked about their smoking habits while pregnant and then in 1999-2000 their children’s criminal records were checked.
The results show that mothers who smoke heavily are 31% more likely to have children who have been arrested than those whose mothers never smoked, and the offspring are more likely to be repeat criminal offenders.
The findings were the same for both men and women.
The authors said their results “suggest that the elevated risk of offending is independent of other family attributes more common among women who smoke during pregnancy, such as a history of mental illness and lower socio-economic status, and may be directly attributable to the smoking exposure.
“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.”
The authors point to plausible evidence for the biological impact of nicotine on the developing brain of babies.
- The study, Maternal smoking during pregnancy and criminal offending among adult offspring, has been published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.