Its well known that smoking during pregnancy can pose serious risks to both women and their unborn child. These risks include low birth weight, premature birth and a greater risk of birth complications, birth defects, stillbirth or sudden infant death syndrome. Despite massive efforts to reduce the prevalence of smoking in pregnancy, new figures release by the National Center for Health Statistics has revealed that 7.2% of expectant mothers smoked during their pregnancy in 2016.
The report found that the figures varied dramatically between different states. The highest numbers were reported in West Virginia at an estimated 25.1%, compared to just 1.6% in California. There was also a variance seen between different ages, education levels and races. For example, younger women were found to be much more likely to smoke than older women, with the 20-24 age group having the highest proportion of smoking at 10.7%.
Patrick Drake, author of the report and a demographer at the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics said “Despite the well-understood risk to mother and child, still, about one of every 14 women in the United States smoked during pregnancy. These levels do vary widely by state, maternal age, race and Hispanic origin, and education, but any amount of smoking during pregnancy is too much.” He also pointed out that “Women in West Virginia smoked during pregnancy more than five times as often as women in the states with the lowest prevalence.”
However, it was noted that the results of these types of reports is limited due to the fact that that data is self reported and there may be some women who wouldn’t want to admit that they smoked when pregnant. Dr. Robyn Horsager-Boehrer, professor and chief of obstetrics and gynaecology at the University of Texas Southwestern’s William P. Clements Jr. University Hospital commented that “With the birth certificate data, it’s easy to use it for things like birth weights, potentially the presence of anomalies, things that are a little bit more objectively recorded during the course of a delivery. But in this case, this is the mom being asked about her use of cigarettes during pregnancy, and I do worry a little bit about a bias toward under-reporting.”
If anything, this report highlights the desperate need for more education and support to be given to pregnant women over the risks, and to help them stop smoking. Although the rates of smoking in the US have declined between 2006 and 2015 and figures from 2011 showed that the rate to be around 10%, there’s clearly more work to be done to bring the numbers down in certain states.
Dr. Haywood Brown, professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at Duke University School of Medicine, who was not involved in the new report said that it’s important to address the issue, especially when you consider that the states that reported the highest prevalence of smoking also had the highest rates of infant mortality. He added that new and improved education campaigns could help to reduce the figures and improve the health of many women and their unborn babies.
“The linkages between smoking and infant mortality and prematurity are real. We still need very aggressive education campaigns in high-smoking-prevalence states, particularly in where there’s rural access-to-care issues. We still have a serious issue with infant mortality — prematurity and infant mortality are clearly linked to cigarette smoking, as is low birth weight — and when you begin to explain these things to patients, it really does appear to make a difference to them,” he said.