Maternal smoking cessation and reduced academic and behavioral problems in offspring

Brian J. Piper, Hilary M. Gray, Melissa A. Birkett

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Background: There is some debate whether smoking during pregnancy causes or is only a risk factor for negative academic outcomes and increased risk of psychopathology in offspring. This study evaluated whether maternal smoking cessation would reduce the risk of adverse outcomes in school-aged children. Methods: Women completed an online survey that included items about child scholastic performance and the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL). Mothers were divided based on pre-pregnancy and pregnancy smoking status into: (1) Nonsmokers (N=320); (2) Women that smoked in the 3 months preceding and throughout pregnancy (Smokers, N=83); and (3) Smoking before, but not during pregnancy (Quitters, N=72). Results: The Smokers and Quitters groups each had lower education and incomes compared to Nonsmokers but were indistinguishable from each other on these measures. The offspring of Smokers were more likely (p<. .05) to be behind their peers on standardized tests in math (27.8%) relative to both Nonsmokers (17.4%) and Quitters (13.0%) with similar findings for reading. Smokers reported more behavioral problems by their children in several areas including Hyperactivity and Impulsivity, Social problems, and Externalizing problems including Aggression and Rule-Breaking. Further, the children of Quitters had significantly fewer Attention and Externalizing problems than Smokers. These outcomes were observed even after accounting for the variance attributable to maternal education and several other potential confounds. Conclusions: Together, these findings indicate that smoking cessation is associated with reduced risk of having children with academic and neuropsychological difficulties. These outcomes are discussed within the framework that nicotine may be a neurobehavioral teratogen.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)62-67
Number of pages6
JournalDrug and Alcohol Dependence
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2012


  • Aggression
  • Attention
  • Math
  • Nicotine
  • Prenatal
  • Psychopathology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology
  • Pharmacology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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