Association of prenatal maternal or postnatal child environmental tobacco smoke exposure and neurodevelopmental and behavioral problems in children

Environ Health Perspect. 1999 Dec;107(12):991-1000. doi: 10.1289/ehp.99107991.


We review the potential neurodevelopmental and behavioral effects of children's prenatal and/or postnatal exposure to environmental tobacco smoke (ETS). Children's exposure to ETS has been assessed in epidemiologic studies as a risk factor for a variety of behavioral and neurodevelopmental problems including reduced general intellectual ability, skills in language and auditory tasks, and academic achievement, and behavioral problems such as hyperactivity and decreased attention spans. We review 17 epidemiologic studies that have attempted to separate the effects of maternal active smoking during pregnancy from passive ETS smoke exposure by the pregnant mother or the child. Based on the available data, we found that ETS exposure could cause subtle changes in children's neurodevelopment and behavior. However, studies to date are difficult to interpret because of the unknown influence of uncontrolled confounding factors, imprecision in measurements of smoking exposure, and collinearity of pre- and postnatal maternal smoking. Although some evidence suggests that maternal smoking during pregnancy may be associated with deficits in intellectual ability and behavioral problems in children, the impact of prenatal or postnatal ETS exposure remains less clear.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Child Behavior Disorders / etiology*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Developmental Disabilities / etiology*
  • Environmental Exposure
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mothers
  • Nervous System / growth & development*
  • Plants, Toxic*
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects*
  • Smoke / adverse effects*
  • Smoking
  • Tobacco*


  • Smoke