Is maternal smoking linking to autism? The answer to this controversial question may surprise you.

No. Currently, there is no evidence to support a link between maternal smoking and autism. While maternal decision making during pregnancy can impact the future mental and physical health of their children, there does not seem to be a connection between maternal smoking and autism.

Effects of Prenatal Exposure to Tobacco Smoke

Prenatal exposure to cigarette smoke is detrimental to fetuses, regardless of their stage of development. Smoking during pregnancy can result in low birthweight, neurodevelopmental disorders and a host of other negative outcomes. It can also increase the likelihood of sudden infant death syndrome, birth defects and decreased lung function. Additionally, asthma, allergies and developmental delays have been linked to exposure to cigarette smoke in utero.

Past Studies on the Connection Between Smoking and Autism

There is no direct correlation between autism and exposure to cigarette smoke in utero. However, despite the lack of evidence that direct exposure can increase the risk of autism, there have been some studies linking maternal grandmother’s pregnancy factors to an increased risk of having grandchildren with an autism spectrum disorder.

During a grandmother’s pregnancy, her daughter’s ovaries are in development while in utero. These early studies suggest that there is an influence of genetic material during the mother’s fetal development that may impact her future offspring. In this way, it seems to suggest that the maternal grandmother’s smoking during pregnancy could influence the likelihood of a grandchild having autism, or at least increase the chance that they will develop autistic traits.

While these results are only preliminary and require additional verification, further research could help scientists better understand the influence of behaviors on genetic material across the generations.

As researchers begin to learn more about how and why autism develops, it is crucial to examine a variety of factors that may influence risk. If you or a loved one has challenges with substance use and autism symptoms, talk to a professional about management strategies to support your needs. The Recovery Village can help people who are dealing with co-occurring substance use and autism. Call  888.976.1165 to speak to one of our intake coordinators and learn about available treatment options.

Megan Hull
Editor – Megan Hull
Megan Hull is a content specialist who edits, writes and ideates content to help people find recovery. Read more
Paula Holmes
Medically Reviewed By – Paula Holmes, LCSW
Paula Holmes is a licensed clinical social worker, psychotherapist and freelance writer who lives and works in midcoast Maine. She received her master's degree in Social Work in 2008 from the University of Maine. Read more

Jung, Y., Lee A.M., McKee, SA., Picciotto, M.R. “Maternal smoking and autism spectrum dis[…]etrics as moderators.” NCBI, June 28, 2017. Accessed Mar. 9, 2019.

Skuse, D. “Autism and smoking during pregnancy – […]hondrial inheritance.” BioNews. May 30, 2017. Accessed Mar. 9, 2019.

Deweerdt, S. “Smoking during pregnancy may up autis[…]tes in grandchildren.” Spectrum. May 29, 2017. Accessed Mar. 9, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.