PhotoThe dangers of smoking when pregnant are well-known, but a new study shows that many expecting women are still struggling to quit. Researchers from both the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and Cradle Cincinnati have found that there is a large gap between the number of pregnant women who self-report smoking behavior and those who actually take part in it.

Findings of the study showed that 16.5% of women in the Ohio area tested positive for high-level nicotine exposure, while only 8.6% admitted to actually lighting up. An additional 7.5% of participants tested positive for low-level exposure to nicotine, suggesting that they inhaled secondhand smoke.

“This is extremely important new information for us as we work to better understand the risk factors for preterm birth,” said Dr. Jim Greenberg, senior author of the study. “We have long suspected that smoking status during pregnancy is under-reported, but now we know just how many women struggle to quit smoking when they are pregnant.”

Self-report shortcomings

The study examined 708 women who gave birth at single maternity hospital in Ohio between March 2014 and August 2015. Each participant was asked to self-report any cigarette smoking during their last trimester. As a second measure, doctors collected urine samples to test for tobacco exposure.

By measuring levels of cotinine in the body, which is the metabolized byproduct of tobacco exposure, doctors were able to conclude that many women under-reported when it came to their smoking habits.

The researchers note that minority women were especially prone to smoking while pregnant in this sample. Women in this group self-reported tobacco use at a rate of 7.9%, but that number jumped up to 21.1% after doctors measured cotinine levels.

“The public health community has long assumed that targeted campaigns toward minority women are not needed because we’ve relied on self-reported data. This new information suggests that that approach is profoundly incorrect and that new support needs to be offered to a population that’s too often been ignored when it comes to anti-smoking efforts,” said Greenberg.

Health risks

Smoking during pregnancy can be detrimental to a developing baby. The researchers point out that it drastically increases the risk of a premature birth, as well as other health complications.

“Studies show that smoking increases the risk of preterm birth by over 25 percent. It is also a proven risk factor for SIDS and for birth defects. All three of the leading causes of infant death are negatively affected by tobacco use. To learn the true size of the battle we are fighting is an important first step,” said Todd Portune, Hamilton County Commissioner and current chair of Cradle Cincinnati.

Those who are struggling to quit smoking while pregnant can call 1-800-QUIT-NOW for support. The full study has been published in the Journal of Perinatology.

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