BACKGROUND. Numerous studies have reported that maternal cigarette smoking during pregnancy is related to lower IQ scores in the offspring. Confounding is a crucial issue in interpreting this association.

METHODS. In the US National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979, IQ was ascertained serially during childhood using the Peabody Individual Achievement Test, the total score for which comprises results on 3 subtests: mathematics, reading comprehension, and reading recognition. Maternal IQ was assessed by using the Armed Forces Qualification Test. There were 5578 offspring (born to 3145 mothers) with complete information for maternal smoking habits, total Peabody Individual Achievement Test score, and covariates.

RESULTS. The offspring of mothers who smoked ≥1 pack of cigarettes per day during pregnancy had an IQ score (Peabody Individual Achievement Test total) that was, on average, 2.87 points lower than children born to nonsmoking mothers. Separate control for maternal education (0.27-IQ-point decrement) and, to a lesser degree, maternal IQ (1.51-IQ-point decrement) led to marked attenuation of the maternal-smoking–offspring-IQ relation. A similar pattern of results was seen when Peabody Individual Achievement Test subtest results were the outcomes of interest. The only exception was the Peabody Individual Achievement Test mathematics score, in which adjusting for maternal IQ essentially led to complete attenuation of the maternal-smoking–offspring-IQ gradient (0.66-IQ-point decrement). The impact of controlling for physical, behavioral, and other social indices was much less pronounced than for maternal education or IQ.

CONCLUSIONS. These findings suggest that previous studies that did not adjust for maternal education and/or IQ may have overestimated the association of maternal smoking with offspring cognitive ability.

You do not currently have access to this content.