December 06, 2019
1 min read

Young children exposed to nicotine may develop hyperactivity, conduct problems

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Lisa Gatzke-Kopp

Children who are exposed to nicotine during their first four years of life exhibited symptoms of hyperactivity and conduct problems, according to a study published in The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

“There has been a lot of research showing that when mothers smoke during pregnancy, their children are at a higher risk for behavior and attention problems later in life," Lisa Gatzke-Kopp, PhD, professor of human development and family studies at Pennsylvania State University, told Healio Psychiatry. "This is the first study showing that consistent exposure to nicotine in the first few years of a child's life shows the same association with increased risk for behavior and attention problems even in children whose mothers did not smoke during pregnancy."

Gatzke-Kopp and colleagues studied a subset of children who were recruited for the Family Life Project, which assessed child development in areas of rural poverty. Of 1,096 participants, 50% were male and 44% were African American. The researchers measured cotinine — the primary metabolic byproduct of nicotine — in participants’ saliva at ages 6, 15, 24 and 48 months. They noted that this provides a more accurate quantification of realized exposure than estimates from parental report of cigarettes smoked.

The researchers reported a linear association between children’s symptoms of hyperactivity and conduct problems and cotinine — an association that remained significant after controlling for parental history of ADHD, family poverty level, parental education, depression, hostility, caregiver IQ and obstetric complications. It remained unchanged when mothers from the model who smoked during pregnancy were excluded.

“Our research team was surprised to discover how much young children can be affected by smoking in their environment,” Gatzke-Kopp said. “Even low levels of exposure, when sustained over years, appear to affect their cognitive development. This has significant public health implications, not only for tobacco smoking but potentially for other airborne nicotine systems such as vaping.” – by Joe Gramigna

Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.