Potential unintended consequences of tobacco-control policies on mothers who smoke: a review of the literature

Am J Prev Med. 2009 Aug;37(2 Suppl):S151-8. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2009.05.006.


Background: Secondhand smoke poses risks to children, particularly those from low socioeconomic backgrounds. Recently, there has been an increase in tobacco-control policies designed to reduce children's exposure to secondhand smoke, including interventions to change parental smoking behaviors. However, little attention has been paid to understanding potential unintended consequences of such initiatives on mothers who smoke. As such, the objectives of this paper are to explore the potential consequences of tobacco-control policies designed to reduce children's exposure to secondhand smoke on socially disadvantaged mothers who smoke and to provide recommendations for research, policy, and practice.

Evidence acquisition: A theory-guided, qualitative narrative review of the perceived discrimination, stigma, and stress and coping literature was conducted. MEDLINE and PsycINFO were searched to identify relevant articles from 1980 to October 2008 for review.

Evidence synthesis: There is evidence that strategies designed to reduce secondhand smoke have contributed to smoking stigmatization. However, there is little research on the consequences of these initiatives or how they affect low-income mothers who smoke. Stigmatization research suggests that such policies may have unanticipated outcomes for socially disadvantaged mothers who smoke, such as decreased mental health; increased use of cigarettes or alcohol; avoidance or delay in seeking medical care; and poorer treatment by healthcare professionals. Recommendations for researchers, practitioners, and policymakers are presented.

Conclusions: Further research is needed to understand how initiatives to reduce children's exposure to secondhand smoke, as well as broader tobacco-control initiatives, can be designed to minimize potential harm to mothers who smoke.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Female
  • Health Behavior
  • Health Policy*
  • Humans
  • Mothers*
  • Smoking / epidemiology
  • Smoking / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Social Class
  • Stereotyping*
  • Tobacco Smoke Pollution / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Tobacco Smoke Pollution / prevention & control*


  • Tobacco Smoke Pollution