Grant Continues RIA Study of Kids Exposed to Cigarette Smoke

Published July 30, 2012

UB’s Research Institute on Addictions has received a $3 million grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to study the behavioral and biological differences between children exposed to cigarette smoking and those not exposed

The grant extends research by RIA’s Rina Das Eiden, the primary investigator, which began with the study of pregnant women who smoked and their infants and toddlers at 2, 9, 16, 24 months and 36 months.

In the original research project, “Prenatal and Environmental Tobacco Smoke Exposure: Effects on Child Regulation,” funded by NIDA from 2005-12, UB researchers examined the behaviors of pregnant smokers, as well as the impact of prenatal exposure to cigarettes, on a child’s development of “self-regulation”—the ability to modulate emotions and behave in socially appropriate ways.

The project found that at 2 months, infants exposed to cigarettes were less physiologically regulated during sleep compared to non-exposed infants. At 9 months, cigarette-exposed infants were less regulated in their physiological reactions to a frustrating situation than were non-exposed infants.

“This type of physiological dysregulation has been connected with behavior problems in other studies. We also know that boys are biologically more vulnerable,” Eiden explains. One goal of the research was to examine if this was due to child exposure to nicotine or to the quality of the care-giving environment, or a combination of both.

With the new grant, which extends funding through 2017, Eiden will continue studying the children of pregnant smokers up to school age. Issues of self-regulation, she points out, become increasingly important as the child ages and may predict social competence and success in school.

“The impact of maternal smoking is a significant public health concern because of the likely cascade of negative developmental effects on children’s self-regulatory capacity, setting the stage for problem behavior and poor social competence later in life.

“We know surprisingly little about the psychobiological mechanisms that account for these negative effects, their risks and protective factors that might exacerbate or buffer them. Understanding these developmental processes is crucial for the development of effective preventive interventions targeting children of cigarette smoking mothers,” says Eiden.

The goals of the newly funded research are:

  • To examine the direct effects of cigarette exposure on children’s biological and behavioral processes, including effects on the endocrine and nervous systems, and on self-regulation and social competence in pre-school and school.
  • To examine if the relationship between cigarette exposure and these biological and behavioral outcomes are mediated by how infants modulate their reactions to environmental challenges and regulate their behavior in infancy.
  • To examine if these associations may be moderated by birth weight and gestational age (prematurity) or, on the maternal side, by the mother’s psychological profile, maternal warmth or harshness, or by the cumulative risks in the environment, such as poor education, low maternal age and stress.

“If we can determine that these biological and behavioral effects for children can be amended by maternal behavior, we may be able to recommend interventions for families that help protect the child from the potentially negative consequences of cigarette exposure,” says Eiden.

UB Reporter link.