Prenatal Second-Hand Smoke Fosters Behavioral Problems
> 6/28/2007 2:32:07 PM

The health hazards of tobacco have long been common knowledge, as has the fact that pregnant women should refrain from smoking (as well as drinking alcohol or ingesting any other conceivably toxic substances). But the first formally demonstrable evidence of a direct link between prenatal second-hand smoke exposure and various behavioral problems should serve as a wake-up call to all in doubt.

In keeping with a 2006 Surgeon General's Report which outlined the immune, respiratory and cardiovascular risks inherent in children whose mothers smoked during and following pregnancy, a new study points toward attention-deficit and behavioral problems most likely brought on by a child's exposure to smoke while in the womb. Tobacco's effects on brain development, premature delivery, low birth weight, and reduced lung capacity are well established. But a new study seems to point toward cigarettes as a predictor of psychological problems such as ADHD, conduct disorders and anti-social behavior. Among a group of 171 children ages 7-15, those who went through their developmental stages in a smoke-free environment were considerably less likely to exhibit symptoms of ADHD than those whose mothers either smoked themselves or were regularly exposed to smokers at work or at home. These trends proved true even after controlling for factors such as socioeconomic status, alcohol and drug abuse and birth weight. Animal studies have shown that exposure to nicotine affects brain development in the later stages of pregnancy, at least partially because it deprives the maturing fetus of oxygen.

Despite repeated public health warnings and the obvious influence of common sense, as many as 20% of expectant mothers continue to smoke cigarettes. Since only 25% of all women in related studies were smokers, it would appear that the vast majority of women who smoke continue to do so while pregnant. But even if they manage to quit, their children may still run the serious risk of inheriting the negative traits encouraged by regular tobacco use. First, nicotine replacement products do not negate the problem in the least, as related patches and gums often deposit even more nicotine in the system than smoking itself. Second, many of those who find quitting so difficult have close family members who smoke - including spouses or partners with whom they share close living quarters.

One of the key qualifiers of this study is the fact that all of the children involved had "significant behavioral and/or emotional problems." That's not to say that these problems were not facilitated or compounded by tobacco use, but the children who had not been exposed to smoke in the first place did not have clean bills of health. Researchers clarified the issue by naming it as a matter of degree: those exposed to second-hand smoke had a more severe prevalence of psychological disturbances. So while cigarettes may not create behavioral disorders, they certainly can influence them in directly negative ways. And this is not a negligable fact. (As if women needed another reason to quit smoking while they are pregnant, planning to become pregnant, or run an even minute risk of becoming pregnant). The choice, if there can be one, is obvious.

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