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Male children born to women who smoke during pregnancy run a risk of violent and criminal behavior that lasts well into adulthood, perhaps be- cause of central nervous system damage, says a study out Sunday.

The finding is consistent with earlier studies that linked prenatal smoking by women not only to law- breaking by their offspring but to impulsive behavior and attention deficit problems, researchers at Emory University in Atlanta say.

But they say their study – based on arrest histories up to age 34 of 4,169 males born between 1958 and 1961 in Copenhagen, Denmark – was the first to show that the impact lasted into adulthood.

The study says the mechanism be-hind the effect may be damage done by smoking to the central nervous system of the fetus. The effect uncovered in the study persists even after accounting for such factors as socio- economic status, parental psychiatric problems, age and the father’s criminal history.

While it is not widespread, there is some poverty in Denmark, lead re- searcher Patricia Brennan says. But the misbehavior effect was found to be independent of family income, Brennan says.

In the study, women were surveyed during the final trimester of pregnancy about how many cigarettes they smoked daily. The arrest records of their sons were checked by reviewing police records 34 years after the women gave birth.

“Our results support the hypothesis that maternal smoking during pregnancy is related to increased rates of crime in adult offspring,” says the study, published in the March issue of -the Archives of Gen eral Psychiatry.

“This general finding is consistent with the literature linking behavior problems, conduct disorder and adolescent offending to prenatal maternal smoking,” it adds. “Our study extended these findings by showing that maternal smoking is related to persistent offending rather than to adolescent-limited offending.”

The study says the findings were in “strong agreement² with a 1992 study in Finland that followed 5,996 men.

³The fact that similar results were obtained . . . from two differing ethnic national populations suggests that these findings may be generalizable to other populations,” It says.

In an editorial in the same journal, David Ferguson of Christchurch School of Medicine In New Zealand suggests it is premature to conclude that smoking during pregnancy was an established risk factor for antisocial behavioral He says, however, that additional research might prove that to be the case.