Pregnant women offered chance at 'Great Start'

Posted: Friday, December 07, 2001

If you are a pregnant smoker who has relapsed since the Great American Smoke Out of Nov. 15, a new program unveiled on Dec. 4 in New York City offers pregnant women a "Great Start."

The program, a free resource sponsored by the American Legacy Foundation, helps pregnant women stop smoking. The first national campaign of its kind, "Great Start" has two aspects:

A national telephone Quitline. Women can call 1-866-667-8278 for free counseling about how to stop using tobacco. Quitline is sponsored by Legacy and managed by the American Cancer Society.

The first national television ad campaign to inform women about the health risks of smoking during pregnancy. Alaska first lady Susan Knowles will appear in ads aired in Alaska.

According to figures compiled by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 426,000 women in the United States smoke each year while pregnant. Maternal smoking has been linked to 1in 10 infant deaths.

Smoking during pregnancy can cause sudden infant death syndrome, miscarriage, still birth, premature delivery and low birth weight. Exposing newborn infants and children to secondhand smoke can cause asthma, pneumonia, bronchitis, brain damage, hearing problems and learning and behavioral problems.

In general, Alaska women and girls smoke more than women and girls Outside. In 1999, statistics show that 18 percent of women and girls in Alaska smoked while pregnant, while 13 percent to 22 percent of women and girls in the general population smoked while pregnant.

Twenty-five percent of Alaska women under 20 years of age smoke while pregnant compared to 18 percent of the general population. Among women 20 to 24 years of age, 21 percent of Alaskans smoke, while the national figure is 17 percent. Among Alaska women more than 34 years old, 16 percent smoke, while the national figure is 10 percent.

The CDC said that Alaska Native/American Indian women report the highest rate of smoking while pregnant of any ethnic group: 21 percent versus 13 percent for women overall.

"There is a tremendous need among the Alaska Native population where the use of tobacco is considered the norm in most rural village communities," said Jill Gates of the American Cancer Society office in Anchorage. "Tobacco is perceived as harmless. So there is a lot of education needed that smoking is not healthful. They see the destruction alcohol does, but tobacco is considered 'not that bad.' But tobacco can kill."

The result in Alaska in 199, is that 13 percent of babies born were low birthweight (meaning they weighed less than five and a half pounds or 2,500 grams), due to smoking during pregnancy. These figures are based on interviews of women shortly after giving birth.

Neonatal health care costs in the state directly related to smoking were $1.01 million, or 3 percent of Alaska's total spending on neonatal care.

For a free copy of "A Trail Guide to Being Smoke Free," call 1-800-LUNG USA.

Gates highly recommends a Web site put together by Tufts and Harvard medical experts at www.quitnet.org.

Ann Chandonnet can be reached at achandonnet@juneauempire.com.



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