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Cigarette Exposure In Early Life Increases Risk Of Behavioral Problems

Children who are exposed to tobacco early in life may be at a higher risk of behavioral problems later in life than counterparts who are not exposed, according to a recent study published in the journal.

During the study, researchers analyzed data on pre- and postnatal exposure to tobacco in the homes of 5,200 primary school children, noting how association is stronger when exposure takes place both during pregnancy and after birth.

The researchers assessed both prenatal and postnatal exposure to tobacco smoke in the home with the help of a standardized questionnaire completed by the parents. Behavioural disorders were assessed via the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) used to assess the behavioural and psychosocial functioning of the children, which was also completed by the parents.

“Exposure to ETS in the postnatal period, alone or in association with exposure during pregnancy, increases the risk of behavioural disorders in primary school children,” added Isabella Annesi-Maesano, Inserm Research Director.

Findings revealed that exposure to ETS during prenatal and postnatal periods was a concern for 21 percent of the children in the study, with conduct disorders showing an association to ETS exposure in children, as well.

Researchers noted how the observations seem to confirm previous studies carried out in animals, i.e. that the nicotine contained in tobacco smoke may have a neurotoxic effect on the brain. During pregnancy, nicotine in tobacco smoke stimulates acetylcholine receptors, and causes structural changes in the brain. In the first months of life, exposure to tobacco smoke generates a protein imbalance that leads to altered neuronal growth.

“Our data indicate that passive smoking, in addition to the well-known effects on health, should also be avoided because of the behavioural disorders it may cause in children,” the researchers concluded.

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