After the Divorce, Reach for a Sweet, Instead of a Smoke

Smoking appears to be part of the collateral damage of a divorce, according to a University of Toronto study of the smoking habits of 19,000 Americans. It appears that when a smoking parent divorces the children run a greater risk of smoking, and the researchers do not know why parental divorce and smoking initiation are linked.

The study, which was published online in the journal Public Health, shows males whose parents divorced before the boys were 18 had 48 percent higher odds of smoking 100 or more cigarettes than those whose parents remained married, and woman ran a 39 percent likelihood in comparison with intact families.

The researchers believed that the association between parental divorce and smoking would have been explained by what one termed “plausible factors,” such as lower levels of education and income, “adult mental health issues,” or “co-occurring early childhood traumas, such as parental addictions or childhood physical, sexual or emotional abuse.

“However, even when we took all these factors into account, a strong and significant association between parental divorce and smoke remained,” said Esme Fuller-Thomson, the Sandra Rotman chair at the University’s Inwentash Faculty of Social Work.

Study co-author Candace Lue-Crisostomo suggested that adults from divorced families are more likely to smoke, but where and when they started remains unknown. She suggested that if the link between divorce and smoking is “causal, then smoking prevention programs targeted at children whose parents are going through a divorce might prove helpful.”

It could be that the children of divorce reach for Mr. Cigarette for the same reason the parent does.  Joanne Filippelli, a University of Toronto doctoral student and a co-author, suggests, “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.”


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