Smokers are more likely to have children who also smoke, even if they quit before their child was born, MedPage Today reported.
In a study published in the journal Pediatrics, researchers discovered that the children of people who smoked only in their teenage years were still 3.2 times more likely to also pick up the habit, compared to children whose parents had never smoked.
For the study, researchers gathered data from a sample of ninth grade students in St. Paul, Minn. They followed this group from 1988 through age 38 - and then also gathered data from the children of that cohort, starting at age 11.
Overall, they found the rate of smoking was 23 to 29 percent among kids ages 11 and older whose parents had once smoked or currently smoked, compared with 8 percent among children of parents who had never smoked, MedPage Today reported. Children who had older siblings who smoked were also more likely to smoke, researchers reported.
"We don't know exactly what's going on here, but my hypothesis is that there is a genetic predisposition toward smoking,” Dr. John Spangler, a family and community medicine specialist at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C., told MedPage Today. “Whether it is a genetic predisposition toward risk taking behavior, genetic disposition toward experimentation of substances, or even a genetic disposition toward nicotine addiction itself.”
However, Spangler noted that parents can still take action to prevent their children from taking up the unhealthy habit.
“A parent should take the opportunity to make it a teachable moment," Spangler said. "There's nothing you can do about your past history of smoking; there is something you can do about your current history of smoking. But if you talk and engage the child in a healthy lifestyle, it may make you more likely to quit and also make the child less likely to start smoking."
The study’s authors noted that their research had some limitations including: relatively low levels of education, the fact that only one parent provided information on their smoking history and the inability to determine exactly what caused the link.