Fewer pregnant women in Washington are smoking

Fewer pregnant women in Washington are smoking. The percentage of women in our state who smoke during the last three months of pregnancy has dropped to 10 percent, according to new survey data released today by the Washington State Department of Health. That is the lowest rate since the department began surveying in 1998. At that time, 13 percent of pregnant women were smoking, but since then the number has steadily dropped.

"When women smoke during pregnancy or are around others who smoke, their child can suffer serious consequences," said Secretary of Health Mary Selecky. "We have worked with health care providers to get pregnant women information and help in quitting smoking. It is certainly good news that the numbers are going down, but there are still too many pregnant women who smoke."

Based on the latest survey, each year in our state one out of every 10 infants is born to a mother who smokes during the last three months of her pregnancy. That’s a total of about 8,000 children statewide. The numbers are higher for women who smoke at any time while they are pregnant. The highest rates of smoking among pregnant women are seen among the youngest mothers (18 percent for mothers younger than 20), Native Americans (28 percent) and low income (15 percent for women on Medicaid). About half of the women who use tobacco before getting pregnant are able to quit by their third trimester, but half of those who did quit began smoking again within three months after pregnancy.

Smoking while pregnant can cause enormous health problems for both the mother and the child, increasing the risks of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), underdeveloped babies, premature delivery, miscarriage, learning disabilities, cleft palate and a host of other illnesses.

"Our best chance to get a pregnant woman to quit smoking is to intervene when she first finds out she’s pregnant," said Dr. Jane Dimer, Maternity-Child Clinical Services chief, Group Health Cooperative.

The Department of Health works with the Department of Social and Health Services, Medicaid, the American Cancer Society, physicians and other health care providers on a campaign to decrease the rate of tobacco use among pregnant women. Health care providers are trained and encouraged to make sure pregnant women who smoke are aware of resources available to help them quit; provide support to help women stay smoke-free after pregnancy; and provide support to help tobacco users in the pregnant women’s families quit. Outreach also includes identifying local quitting resources for health care providers, as well as directing them to the state Tobacco Quit Line (1-877-270-STOP, www.quitline.com), a free service that provides all Washington residents with assistance in quitting.

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