Study: Children of Divorce More Likely to Become Smokers

Out of 19,000 U.S adults, the odds of having smoked 100 or more cigarettes increased by 48 and 39 percent for sons and daughters, respectively, of separated or divorced parents.

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marthathegoodone/Flickr

As a children grow up, it's completely fine for them to hold onto their stuffed animals and other childhood comfort objects. These things helped ease their way into the world, explained a recent New York Times article, and some people continue to seek out that reassurance into adulthood. Of course, if you would rather be lectured about lung cancer and made to stand outside instead of being teased for still having a blankie, cigarettes can provide comfort, too.

Researchers at the University of Toronto weren't able to prove that children of divorced parents turn to cigarettes as a coping mechanism from lingering childhood trauma. But they did find that people whose parents had divorced when they were children were at a significantly increased risk of initiating smoking.

Of the 19,000 U.S adults included in the study, the odds of having smoked 100 or more cigarettes increased by 48 and 39 percent for sons and daughters of separated or divorced parents, respectively. The "100 or more" metric is the CDC's way of deciding who counts as a smoker (people who never reach that milestone get to be labeled "never smokers.")

"Divorce" can be experienced in any number of ways and be associated with a number of other behaviors and mental states. I asked lead author Esme Fuller-Thomson about confounding factors, and she explained that children of divorce are also more likely to have lower education levels and to develop depression and anxiety. Previous studies have linked those factors to an increased likelihood of smoking, but Fuller-Thompson's study controlled for these factors. Even still, they found a positive correlation between divorce in childhood and smoking in adulthood. They suggest that experiencing a parents' divorce, in and of itself, is a risk factor for future smoking. So all we have to do is end divorce.



"Gender-specific association between childhood adversities and smoking in adulthood: findings from a population-based study" was published in Public Health.

Presented by

Lindsay Abrams is an assistant editor at Salon and a former writer and producer for The Atlantic's Health Channel.

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