Background: The association between prenatal exposure to maternal cigarette smoking (PEMCS) and adult cognition is debated, including if there are differences according to sex. We aimed to determine if there are associations between PEMCS and cognition in early adulthood in men and women and examine if observed associations were mediated by adolescent mental health factors that are associated with cognition, namely psychotic-like experiences (PLEs), inattention and hyperactivity, and other externalizing behaviors.
Methods: Participants were 471 individuals drawn from the general population-based Northern Finland 1986 Birth Cohort (NFBC 1986) followed up from pregnancy and birth to early adulthood; individuals with PEMCS were matched with those without PEMCS by socioeconomic and demographic factors. Cognitive performance in adulthood was assessed with a range of tests and their association with PEMCS was measured by sex using hierarchical linear regression, unadjusted and then controlling for potential confounders, mediators and moderators, including adolescent mental health factors.
Results: There were no associations between PEMCS and cognitive scores in females. In males, there were associations with vocabulary (beta = -0.444, 95% CI: -0.783, -0.104) and matrix reasoning (beta = -0.379, 95% CI: -0.711, -0.047).
Conclusions: While associations between PEMCS and cognition were limited, observed findings with measures of general intelligence in males contribute to suggestions of differences in response to PEMCS by sex. Furthermore, observed associations may be partly mediated by earlier inattention and hyperactivity. Findings add support to efforts aimed to eliminate smoking in pregnancy.
Keywords: Cognition; Inattention and hyperactivity; Prenatal smoking; Psychotic-like experiences.