The Effect of Maternal Smoking on Offspring Smoking Is Unrelated to Heritable Personality Traits or Initial Subjective Experiences

Tess L. Weber, Arielle Selya, Lauren S. Wakschlag, Lisa Dierker, Jennifer S. Rose, Don Hedeker, Robin J. Mermelstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


INTRODUCTION: Maternal smoking is a risk factor for offspring smoking. Lifetime maternal smoking vs. prenatal tobacco exposure (PTE) appears to act through different mechanisms. This study tested the hypothesis that maternal smoking measures' effects on offspring smoking could be attributable to hereditary mechanisms: personality traits (novelty-seeking, impulsivity, neuroticism, and self-esteem) and initial subjective smoking experiences (pleasurable, unpleasurable, and dizziness). METHODS: Data were drawn from the Social and Emotional Contexts of Adolescent Smoking Patterns study, an 8-year longitudinal study of 9th or 10th graders at baseline (≈age 15) who experiment with smoking (<100 lifetime cigarettes; N = 594) at baseline. The young adult smoking frequency at the 8-year follow-up (≈age 23) was examined as a function of baseline characteristics (heritable trait, maternal smoking, PTE, and sex) and baseline smoking frequency and nicotine dependence. Structural equation models determined whether the inclusion of each heritable trait among offspring confounded the effects of maternal smoking (PTE or maternal smoking) on offspring smoking and nicotine dependence. RESULTS: Impulsiveness was associated with intermediate adolescent smoking frequency (B = 0.135, SD = 0.043, p = .002) and nicotine dependence (B = 0.012, SD = 0.003, p < .001). Unpleasurable first experience (B = 0.886, SD = 0.374, p = .018) and dizziness (B = 0.629, SD = 0.293, p = .032) showed a trend with intermediate smoking frequency that was nonsignificant after correcting for multiple comparisons. These traits did not confound maternal smoking's effects. CONCLUSIONS: None of the heritable traits examined in this model explained the effect of maternal smoking measures on adolescence or young adulthood offspring smoking. Further research is needed to elucidate the mechanism by which PTE and maternal smoking are linked to offspring smoking. IMPLICATIONS: Prenatal tobacco exposure (PTE) and mother's lifetime smoking present separate and independent risks for offspring smoking; however, their mechanisms seem unrelated to heritable personality traits and initial subjective smoking experiences. These findings have implications for separate screening strategies tailored to different age groups, especially related to PTE's risk of smoking in young adulthood. Additionally, these findings add to the known risks of maternal smoking. Further research is needed to understand the mechanism underlying the risk posed by maternal lifetime smoking and PTE on offspring smoking behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1754-1762
Number of pages9
JournalNicotine & tobacco research : official journal of the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco
Issue number10
StatePublished - Aug 29 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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