Smoking during pregnancy raises risk of having children who carry out crimes, study finds

Stealing, damaging property, being truant from school, and fighting were the most commons forms of criminal behaviour

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Women who smoke during pregnancy are more likely to give birth to children at risk of engaging in criminal behaviour in their pre-teen years, an Australian study has shown.

Research into antisocial behaviour among 12 and 13 years old involving around 5,000 Australian families found that smoking occasionally or frequently during pregnancy was a “significant risk factor” for criminal activity.

This was the case when other characteristics were taken into account, including the child’s demographic and personality; parents’ age and education level; financial influences; birth complications, and parenting style.

The study by the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) also highlighted that children living in less affluent areas were not more likely to engage in criminal activity.

The most common forms of delinquent behaviour were stealing, damaging property, being truant from school, and fighting.

To make their findings, researchers analysed 35 factors which were linked to child crime in the 12 to 13 age group. The drinking and smoking habits of fathers were not assessed in detail by experts.

"The most common reason stems from the family but also the children themselves,” Dr Ben Edwards of the AIFS told Australia’s ABC news.

Attention problems in children aged between four and five were also an important factor, as well as peer problems by age 11, higher levels of harsh parenting were also linked with high levels of criminal behaviour.

However, overall only 10 per cent of 12 to 13 year-olds had been involved in delinquent behaviour.

Addressing the link between smoking and bad behaviour, Dr Edwards said: "There is some research that suggests it's associated with the neurobehavioral development suggesting that sort of ADHD or attention hyperactivity disorders at greater levels. But this is the first study we've identified this."

Conversely, mothers who drank during pregnancy were less likely to have children involved in criminal behaviour. 

"We don't understand the reason for that," said Dr Edwards.

The study also stressed that most children who are at risk do not develop into young offenders.

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