Vol. 5, No. 2, 1999 Page 1&7

Moms’ smoking during pregnancy
linked to adult criminality

Mothers who smoke during pregnancy endanger their children’s health-and, according to a new large-scale study, they also increase the likelihood that their male children will be persistent criminals.

Patricia Brennan et al. studied 4,169 males born between 1959 and 1961 in Copenhagen, Denmark. During the third trimester of pregnancy, the subjects’ mothers reported the number of cigarettes they smoked daily. When the offspring were 34 years old, the re esearchers checked their arrest records in the Danish National Criminal Register. (The researchers did not study women, because of their low rate of arrests.)

Brennan et al. report that “maternal smoking during the third trimester predicted nonviolent, violent, and persistent crime,” even when the researchers accounted for many socioeconomic, familial, and perinatal risk factors. In contrast, criminality limite ed to adolescent years was not significantly linked to maternal smoking.

Subjects particularly at risk, Brennan et al. say, were those who suffered birth complications and whose mothers smoked during pregnancy. According to the researchers, “More than 25% of the males with the highest levels of both delivery complications and maternal smoking were arrested for a violent criminal offense.”

Maternal smoking has been linked to increased startle response, abnormal muscle tone, and other abnormalities indicative of neurological deficits. “These central nervous system deficits,” the researchers say, “may be the mediating factor between maternal smoking and offspring deviant behavior.”

Brennan et al. note that a similar large-scale study by P. Rantakallio and colleagues, this one of 5,966 Finnish subjects, found that individuals whose mothers smoked during pregnancy were twice as likely to have criminal records at 22 years of age as con ntrol subjects were. “The fact that similar results were obtained from independent birth cohorts from two differing ethnic national populations,” they say, “suggests that these findings may be generalizable to other populations.”

In addition, a study by David Fergusson and colleagues of more than 1,000 subjects (see related article, Crime Times, 1998, Vol. 4, No. 4, Page 3) found a strong correlation between maternal smoking and conduct disorders in children between the ages of 16 and 18. And in 1997, Jacob Orlebeke and colleagues, studying 1,377 three-year-old twin pairs, found a significant effect of maternal smoking on “e externalizing” behavior problems such as aggression and overactivity (see related article, Crime Times, 1997, Vol. 3, No. 3, Page 7).


“Maternal smoking during pregnancy and adult male criminal outcomes,” Patricia A. Brennan, Emily R. Grekin, and Sarnoff A. Mednick, Archives of General Psychiatry, Vol. 56, March 1999, pp. 215-219. Address: Patricia A. Brennan, Department of Psycho ology, Emory University, 512 N. Kilgo Circle, Atlanta, GA 30322.

Related Article: [1999, Vol. 5] [2001, Vol. 7] [2002, Vol. 8] [2005, Vol. 11]

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