Media Releases

Children of divorced parents more likely to start smoking

March 14, 2013

TORONTO, ON – Both daugh­ters and sons from divorced fam­i­lies are sig­nif­i­cant­ly more like­ly to ini­ti­ate smok­ing in com­par­i­son to their peers from intact fam­i­lies, shows a new analy­sis of 19,000 Amer­i­cans.

This Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to study, pub­lished online this month in the jour­nal Pub­lic Health, shows that men who expe­ri­enced parental divorce before they turned 18 had 48-per-cent high­er odds of ever smok­ing 100 or more cig­a­rettes than men whose par­ents did not divorce. Women from divorced fam­i­lies were also at risk, with 39-per-cent high­er odds of smok­ing in com­par­i­son to women from intact fam­i­lies.

“Find­ing this link between parental divorce and smok­ing is very dis­turb­ing,” says lead author Esme Fuller-Thom­son, San­dra Rot­man Chair at Uni­ver­si­ty of Toronto’s Fac­tor-Inwen­tash Fac­ul­ty of Social Work. “We had antic­i­pat­ed that the asso­ci­a­tion between parental divorce and smok­ing would have been explained by one or more of three plau­si­ble fac­tors, such as low­er lev­els of edu­ca­tion or adult income among the chil­dren of divorce; adult men­tal health issues, such as depres­sion or anx­i­ety among the chil­dren of divorce, or oth­er co-occur­ring ear­ly child­hood trau­mas, such as parental addic­tions or child­hood phys­i­cal, sex­u­al or emo­tion­al abuse.

“Each of these char­ac­ter­is­tics has been shown in oth­er stud­ies to be linked with smok­ing ini­ti­a­tion. How­ev­er, even when we took all these fac­tors into account, a strong and sig­nif­i­cant asso­ci­a­tion between parental divorce and smok­ing remained.”

In the study enti­tled “The Gen­der-Spe­cif­ic Asso­ci­a­tion Between Child­hood Adver­si­ties and Smok­ing in Adult­hood: Find­ings from a Pop­u­la­tion Based Study,” inves­ti­ga­tors exam­ined a rep­re­sen­ta­tive sam­ple of 7,850 men and 11,506 women aged 18 and over, drawn from the Cen­ter for Dis­ease Control’s 2010 Behav­ioral Risk Fac­tor Sur­veil­lance Sur­vey. A total of 1,551 sons and 2,382 daugh­ters had expe­ri­enced their par­ents’ divorce before the age of 18. A total of 4,316 men and 5,072 women report­ed that they had smoked at least 100 cig­a­rettes in their life.

From this study, researchers can­not deter­mine why parental divorce is linked to smok­ing ini­ti­a­tion. How­ev­er, co-author Joanne Fil­ip­pel­li, a Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to doc­tor­al stu­dent, sug­gests it is pos­si­ble that “chil­dren upset by their par­ents’ divorce may use smok­ing as a cop­ing mech­a­nism to reg­u­late emo­tions and stress. Some research sug­gests this calm­ing effect may be par­tic­u­lar­ly attrac­tive to those who have suf­fered ear­ly adver­si­ties.”

Recent master’s of social work grad­u­ate and co-author Can­dace Lue-Crisos­to­mo said that this study shows adults from divorced fam­i­lies are more like­ly to smoke but it’s not known exact­ly when or why they began smok­ing. “These find­ings need to be repli­cat­ed in lon­gi­tu­di­nal stud­ies before causal­i­ty can be estab­lished. If the parental divorce-smok­ing link is shown to be causal in future stud­ies, then smok­ing pre­ven­tion pro­grams tar­get­ed at chil­dren whose par­ents are going through a divorce might prove help­ful.”

Cig­a­rette smok­ing is one of the lead­ing pre­ventable caus­es of chron­ic ill­ness and pre­ma­ture death. The esti­mat­ed eco­nom­ic bur­den of smok­ing exceed­ed $193 bil­lion annu­al­ly in the U.S.

Link to jour­nal abstract:–3/abstract%20.


For more infor­ma­tion, please con­tact:

Esme Fuller-Thom­son
Pro­fes­sor & San­dra Rot­man Chair
Fac­tor-Inwen­tash Fac­ul­ty of Social Work
Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to
Tel: 011–61-45–085-4533
* NOTE: Prof. Fuller-Thom­son is cur­rent­ly in Aus­tralia. Best to e‑mail first to arrange inter­views or call after 4 pm (EST).