Baby at Risk: Smoking and a Life of Crime

Could your smoking habit turn your child into a criminal?

By Jennifer Jones, published May 1, 2003 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

Women who smoke during pregnancy put their babies at risk for a host of physical and developmental problems. But could they also tip the scales in favor of criminal activity and drug abuse by their children down the road?

Patricia Brennan, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology at Emory University in Georgia, found that daughters of women who smoked more than 10 cigarettes a day were almost three times as likely to be hospitalized for substance abuse and one and a half times as likely to be arrested than were women whose mothers did not smoke during pregnancy.

The sons of women who smoked this amount were also more likely to be arrested than were the sons of nonsmokers. Brennan examined maternal smoking and subsequent arrest and hospitalization records for 8,000 Danes born between 1959 and 1961. She could not ascertain maternal alcohol or drug use because this behavior was considered rare in Denmark at the time.

Brennan notes that the daughters' substance abuse could have contributed to their higher arrest rate. "It is likely a combination of genetic factors, parenting and smoking on the part of the mother during pregnancy," says Brennan, who published the results in The American Journal of Psychiatry.