Pregnancy, smoking a bad mix

A new program to encourage local young mothers-to-be to quit smoking is a good first step — but much more needs to be done.

A new program to encourage local young mothers-to-be to quit smoking is a good first step — but much more needs to be done.

The five-week education and marketing campaign, Baby Steps, seeks to get pregnant Central Albertans who smoke to butt out. Its intentions are good, and well-targeted. David Thompson Health Region figures show that 31 per cent of pregnant women in Central Alberta smoke; the provincial average is just 20 per cent.

The statistics are unsettling even if these young women weren’t pregnant. Smoking kills, it diminishes quality of life, and it is a multimillion-dollar drain on the health-care system.

But why does it matter particularly if young women smoke while pregnant?

l Babies born of smoking mothers have lower birth weights, thus are more prone to illness and complications.

l Health issues like asthma, intellectual development concerns and birth defects have been linked to smoking.

l Studies suggest that smoking mothers are less likely to carry their child to full term and could suffer health problems of their own during pregnancy, or lose the fetus.

Five young Central Alberta women are at the core of the new marketing program.

Their stories, of being pregnant and quitting smoking, are intended to inspire other young women. The program also offers tips on how to conquer tobacco.

“Cigarette smoking is the single largest modifiable risk factor for low birth weight in Alberta,” said Stephen Duckett, president and CEO of Alberta Health Services.

But it is not enough just to quit smoking during pregnancy. Resuming smoking after you give birth (or allowing other family members to smoke in the home after you give birth) still puts your child in danger.

Passive smoking, through second-hand smoke, poses a number of significant dangers for youngsters.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, passive smoking, particularly in the first year of life, can lead to:

l Sudden infant death syndrome.

l Asthma and other respiratory problems like bronchitis and pneumonia.

l Significantly increased risk of serious infectious disease.

l Markedly higher rates of middle-ear infections, which can lead to hearing loss and other problems.

l Higher cholesterol levels, which later in life can lead to heart problems.

l A greater risk of cancer.

l Nicotine, an addictive drug that gives the user a mild high, can be transferred to the child through breast milk.

Certainly, getting young pregnant women to quit smoking is critical to improving infant health.

But just as clearly, these same young people — and their peers — need to understand that nothing but sadness and sickness will come from smoking at any stage in their lives.

The Alberta Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission estimates that 15 per cent of youth aged 15 to 19 in Alberta smoke, and the rate doubles to 30 per cent for 20-to-24-year-olds.

As much as pregnant women need to be the target of any education campaign, it is critical that all young people be put on notice: smoking kills, destroys lives and impacts those around you like ripples from a stone in water.

Baby Steps is a good first step. But Alberta Health Services needs to take it to a broader provincial audience, and to look for ways to keep young people from ever trying tobacco.

John Stewart is the Advocate’s managing editor.

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