Columba Bush

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WOMENSENEWS)–A coalition of women leaders, including Columba Bush, spouse of the governor of Florida and Jacalyn Leavitt, spouse of the governor of Utah, has launched a new campaign aimed at highlighting the dangers of smoking during pregnancy.

“More women are making the right choice and are not smoking during pregnancy, yet too many women–almost a half million in 1999–smoked while pregnant,” said Dr. Jeffrey P. Koplan, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “The best advice we can give all women is to begin their pregnancies as healthy non-smokers.”

The new “Great Start” campaign includes television ads featuring Bush informing viewers about the health risks of smoking during pregnancy and encouraging pregnant women to call a toll free Quitline for help. The ad began airing in Tallahassee and Miami in December and will begin running nationwide this month.

“Although many mothers want to make the healthy choice and quit smoking during their pregnancy, many women choose not to,” Bush said. “Smoking during pregnancy threatens the health of mothers and babies in Florida and across the nation, but hopefully through this campaign someone will listen to our message to bring their children into the world healthy.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least 12 percent of all pregnant women smoke during their pregnancy. Mothers who smoke tend to have infants that weigh less and are less likely to live through their first year. Although the number of women smoking during pregnancy has actually dropped 33 percent between 1990 and 1999, not all groups are cutting back equally.

On August 28, 2001, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that “The greatest success in reducing smoking was for women in their late twenties and early thirties, where there was over a 40 percent drop since 1990. . .Teenagers were more likely than women of any other age to smoke while pregnant. After experiencing a dramatic 20-percent decline in the first part of the decade, smoking rates among pregnant teenagers–unlike women of all other ages–increased by 5 percent from 1994 to 1999. The highest rate in 1999 (19 percent) was for women 18-19 years of age.”

Smoking While Pregnant Places Significant Stress on Mother’s Health

More than the fetus is harmed when a pregnant woman smokes. Being pregnant puts stress on the lungs and circulatory system, perhaps exacerbating damage caused by smoking. In 1987, lung cancer surpassed breast cancer to become the leading cause of cancer death among U.S. women, according to a 2001 report by the U.S. Surgeon General. In 2000, about 27,000 more women died of lung cancer (67,600) than breast cancer (40,800). Smoking also is linked to increases in cervical cancer, decreased bone density, hip fractures and arthritis, earlier onset of menopause and coronary heart disease.

Women who smoked during pregnancy also were more likely to have a low birthweight infant compared to women who did not smoke, the federally funded Centers for Disease Control reported. The center tracks smoking rates among pregnant women because of the serious consequences to the fetus, such as retarding its growth. Higher infant mortality rates have also been linked to maternal smoking.

The campaign got underway at the same time as the publication of a new study that found that a genetic susceptibility makes some women who smoke during pregnancy at higher risk for giving birth to low-birth-weight infants weighing 5 pounds 8 ounces or less.

The study, published on Wednesday in The Journal of the American Medical Association, found that some women with certain genotypes are more susceptible to the harmful effects of cigarette smoke. Infants born to women who smoked while they were pregnant weighed 13.3 ounces less than the mid-point size of all infants born. Depending on their genotype, some women smokers gave birth to infants that weighed 2 pounds, 12 ounces less than the midpoint weight.

“Mothers are far more likely to have healthier babies when they make the smart decision not to smoke during pregnancy,” Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson said. “While the overall trend is encouraging, it’s clear that we must do more to ensure young women understand smoking is a real health risk for them and for their children.”

In addition to the problems associated with low birthweight, infants born to mothers who smoke are at risk for other problems, according the American Legacy Foundation. Smoking during pregnancy or exposing infants or young children to secondhand smoke may contribute to such health problems as asthma, pneumonia, bronchitis, brain damage, and hearing problems. Parental smoking has also been linked to behavioral problems and increases the risk for fire-related injuries. Smoking during pregnancy also may also be related to about 1,000 cases of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome each year nationally. The U. S ranks 26th in the world in infant mortality, according to Cheryl Healton, president and CEO of the American Legacy Foundation.

As part of the “Great Start” campaign, the first national telephone 24-hour “Quitline” offers pregnant smokers free counseling sessions to help them stop smoking. The Quitline can be reached toll free at 1-866-66-START. Pregnant smokers can call the Great Start Quitline to receive free telephone counseling sessions with a counselor especially trained to help pregnant smokers quit. Spanish-language assistance is also available. The Quitline is sponsored by the American Legacy Foundation and managed by the American Cancer Society.

“The Great Start campaign is vitally important,” Utah’s Leavitt said. “It will bring new visibility to a serious health problem that hasn’t received the attention it deserves. We believe we can motivate pregnant women to take the first step toward a healthier family.”

Nancy Cook Lauer is a journalist covering state government in Tallahassee, Fla. She recently won a first place award from the national Association of Capital Reporters
and Editors.

For more information:

The Great Start Program:

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
Smoke-free Families:

Columba Bush:

“Columba Bush Helps Launch the American Legacy Foundation ‘Great Start’ Campaign to Help Pregnant Women Stop Smoking”:

Jacalyn S. Leavitt:

March of Dimes Defects Foundation
“Genes in women who smoke linked to prematurity, low birthweight in their babies”:

The Journal of the American Medical Association
Maternal Cigarette Smoking, Metabolic Gene Polymorphism, and Infant Birth Weight
Study finds genes, smoking affect birthweight

Center for Disease Control and Prevention

Tabacco and Information Source(TIPS)
Facts on Women and Tobacco:

“Smoking During Pregnancy–Rates Drop Steadily in the 1990’s, but among Teen Mothers Progress Has Stalled”:

Press Release, August 28, 2001:

Women and Smoking
A Report of the Surgeon General-2001