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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

BU Finds In Utero Tobacco Exposure Linked to Executive Function Problems in Teens

Prenatal tobacco exposure is known to have negative short-term impacts, including preterm birth, low birth weight and subsequent behavioral issues. However, a new study from Boston University School of Public Health (BU) has found that the negative impacts can last well into a child’s future.

The results showed that exposure to as few as 10 cigarettes was associated with negative impacts on the executive functioning of adolescents who were exposed prenatally. Published online in Drug and Alcohol Dependence, the study is the first to look at the long-term impact on students in a high-school setting, and demonstrates the importance of providing more evidence-based smoking-cessation programs for women of childbearing age and pregnant women.

The study included teachers filling out a Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Functioning – Teacher Form (BRIEF-TF) once a year for the sample of students involved in the study. The teachers were not aware of the study aims, but were knowledgeable about the students. The students involved were 51 percent male and 89 percent African American and went to school in an urban community. Teachers filled out at least one BRIEF-TF for 131 adolescents, and the study controlled for demographics, substance exposures other than tobacco, early childhood exposure to lead, and exposure to violence.

The findings showed that only tobacco was associated with less optimal executive functioning in the classroom, particularly impacting students’ ability to regulate their behavior.

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