After analyzing data on pre- and postnatal exposure to tobacco in the houses of 5,200 primary schoolchildren, scientists from Inserm and Pierre and Marie Curie University (UPMC), along with university hospitals of six French cities have revealed significant behavioral disorders in children exposed to tobacco. These disorders particularly include conduct and emotional anomalies.

The researchers also observed that the disorders were stronger in cases where exposure to tobacco occurred both, during and after pregnancy. These findings also demonstrate the risk between smoking in early life and its repercussions on behavior of school-age children.

Collecting Data To Find An Association

The adverse effects of exposure to tobacco smoke, such as asthma, have been widely demonstrated. However, the particular role of ETS (environmental tobacco smoke) is much less known, especially in terms of its association to behavioral difficulties in children. For this purpose, researchers led by Isabella Annesi-Maesano, Inserm Research Director at Unit 1136, Pierre Louis Public Health Institute (Inserm/UPMC), studied the link between pre- and postnatal exposure to ETS and behavioral problems in children.

The data was obtained from six cities and targeted the homes of 5,221 primary schoolchildren. Prenatal (in-utero smoking) and postnatal exposure to tobacco smoke was determined by a standardized questionnaire given to the parents. The assessment of behavioral disorders was done using the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) which evaluates the psychosocial and behavioral functioning of children.

No Smoking In Front Of Children

It was seen that emotional disorders were significantly linked with prenatal and postnatal exposure to ETS, demonstrated by 21 percent of the children in the study. Disorders of conduct were also associated with ETS exposure, however it is less pronounced.

These findings somewhat confirm the experiments conducted using animals – the nicotine in tobacco smoke might have neurotoxic effects on the brain. During pregnancy, nicotine stimulates receptors of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, causing structural alterations in the brain. During the first month of a baby, exposure to tobacco smoke triggers a protein imbalance that results in altered neuronal growth.

“Our data indicate that passive smoking should be avoided due to the behavioral disorders it might cause in children, especially emotional disruptions”, conclude the researchers. The study was published in the journal PLOS ONE.