MONDAY, March 25, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- Children whose parents divorce are more likely to smoke as adults than kids from families of divorce, according to a new study.
Men who were younger than 18 when their parents divorced were 48 percent more likely to have smoked at least 100 or more cigarettes than men whose parents did not divorce. For women, the risk was 39 percent higher, according to the researchers from the University of Toronto.
"Finding this link between parental divorce and smoking is very disturbing," study lead author Esme Fuller-Thomson, chairwoman of the social work faculty, said in a university news release.
The researchers anticipated that the association between parental divorce and smoking would have been explained by other 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 childhood traumas, such as parental addictions or childhood abuse, Fuller-Thomson said.
"Each of these characteristics has been shown in other studies to be linked with smoking initiation," she said. "However, even when we took all these factors into account, a strong and significant association between parental divorce and smoking remained."
Although the association between divorce and smoking was strong, the study did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.
For the study, published online in the journal Public Health, the researchers examined 2010 data from more than 19,000 American adults aged 18 and older. They found that more than 1,500 men and more than 2,300 women were younger than 18 when their parents divorced and that more than 4,300 men and more than 5,000 women had smoked at least 100 cigarettes in their life.
The study did not determine why smoking risk is higher in adults who were children when their parents divorced, but it is possible that children upset by their parents' divorce may use smoking as a coping mechanism to regulate emotions and stress, another researcher said.
"Some research suggests this calming effect may be particularly attractive to those who have suffered early adversities," study co-author and doctoral student Joanne Filippelli said in the news release.
Learning more about why and when these adults from divorced families might begin smoking could lead to targeted smoking-prevention programs, the researchers said.
Smoking is one of the leading preventable causes of chronic illness and death.
The American Lung Association has more about smoking.