L. A. Times

Monday, March 15, 1999

Study: Smoking, Adult Crime Linked

By TAMMY WEBBER, Associated Press Writer
Los Angeles Times

CHICAGO--Researchers examining the relationship between mothers who smoke and their child's adult behavior say babies of smokers could be at a higher risk of turning into criminals.

Although such links have been studied in children and teen-agers, researchers say a study published in this month's Archives of General Psychiatry is the first to examine the relationship between mothers who smoke and the actions of their mature offspring.

While stopping short of saying that babies whose mothers smoked while pregnant will become criminals, researchers say their findings are significant.

"Our results support our hypothesis that maternal smoking during pregnancy is related to increased rates of crime in adult offspring," the authors wrote, adding that the results "suggest an additional critical reason to support public health efforts aimed at improving maternal health behaviors during pregnancy."

However an expert not involved in the study said there is not enough research to say that prenatal smoking can be risk factor for adult crimes.

The researchers from Emory University in Atlanta, the University of Southern California and the Institute of Preventive Medicine in Denmark based their findings on data for 4,169 males born in Copenhagen between September 1959 and December 1961 and studied the men's arrest histories at age 34.

The number of cigarettes their mothers had smoked during the third trimester of pregnancy affected the men's arrests for nonviolent and violent crimes as adults, even after factoring out other possible causes such as alcohol use, divorce, income and home environment, researchers said in the study, which was released Sunday.

Only one other risk factor - delivery complications - was found to be significant.

Researchers found that more than a quarter of the men whose mothers had the highest levels of smoking and delivery complications were arrested for a violent crime as an adult.

Further study should be aimed at determining the effects of smoking on the brain of developing fetuses and to see if specific agents in tobacco smoke can be more directly linked to antisocial behavior, they said.

A spokeswoman for Patricia Brennan, the study's lead author and a researcher at Emory's Department of Psychology, could not be reached for comment Sunday.

But David Fergusson, a psychiatric epidemiologist at the Christchurch School of Medicine in New Zealand, said there is not enough research to add prenatal smoking to the list of established risk factor for adult crimes.

Fergusson, who wrote an editorial accompanying the article, said the study did not rule out the possibility that genetics - not smoking - caused behavior problems.

"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 in a telephone interview Sunday.

Copyright 1999 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

Copyright 1999 Los Angeles Times. All Rights Reserved