The negative impact of prenatal tobacco exposure on a child can last well into their later years, a new study has found.
Prenatal tobacco exposure is known to have negative short-term impacts including preterm birth, low birth weight and subsequent behavioural issues. However, this is the first study to look at its long-term impact on students in a high school setting.
The study, published online in Drug and Alcohol Dependence, shows that exposure to as few as 10 cigarettes is associated with negative impacts on the executive function of adolescents who were exposed prenatally.
Executive functioning includes a higher level of cognitive organisation and management processes that are important for success both in school and in daily life. These skills are learned throughout childhood and include how to self-manage behaviour and how best to organise and act on information.
Because tobacco is one of the most common substances used during pregnancy — and it’s legal for adults to use — these results indicate the tremendous importance of bolstering efforts to ensure that women of child-bearing age and pregnant women have increased access to evidence-based tobacco smoking cessation programs.
Given that as few as 10 cigarettes can have a negative impact, it is imperative that we act on this and provide as much access and education as we can to help prevent these negative outcomes.
Said Ruth Rose-Jacobs, ScD, MS, from Boston Medical Center and Boston University School of Medicine, who served as the study’s first author.
According to a report issued by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, smoking during pregnancy is common across the US, with as many as eight per cent of women having smoked at some point during pregnancy.
The study included teachers filling out a Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Functioning – Teacher Form (BRIEF-TF) once a year for the sample of students involved in the study. The teachers were not aware of the study aims, but were knowledgeable about the students. The students involved were 51 per cent male and 89 per cent African American and went to school in an urban community.
Teachers filled out at least one BRIEF-TF for 131 adolescents. Multivariable analyses included controls for demographics; intrauterine cocaine, marijuana, and alcohol exposures; early childhood exposures to lead; and violence exposure from school-age to adolescence.
The findings show that only tobacco was associated with less optimal executive functioning in the classroom for the students, particularly impacting their ability to regulate their behaviour.