Cigarette-tax advocates say it would reduce smoking by pregnant women, a bad behavior in which Kentucky leads the nation

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

FRANKFORT, Ky. -- The best way to help pregnant women in Kentucky stop smoking is to increase the cigarette tax by $1, to $1.60. That was the main message at the Coalition for a Smoke-Free Tomorrow's Jan. 23 rally at the state Capitol.

Ben Chandler, chair of the coalition and the president and CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, told the small crowd that such an increase would result in nearly 6,000 fewer smoking-affected pregnancies and births over the next five years in the Commonwealth.

"Think of that: more than 1,000 Kentucky babies every year who are healthier because they were not exposed to the toxins in cigarettes while they grew and developed in the womb," Chandler said.

He added that Kentucky has the highest rate of smoking during pregnancy in the nation, with more than one in five pregnant women in the state smoking cigarettes at some time during their pregnancy. The national rate is 8 percent. That rate is even higher in 35 counties, 30 percent. And in four counties -- Clay, Jackson, Lee and Owsley -- it exceeds 41 percent.

Misti Williams tells how she quit smoking during her pregnancy
at a Coalition for a Smokefree Tomorrow rally. (Coalition photo)
Misti Williams, pregnant with her fifth child, said she smoked during her previous pregnancies, but decided she would quit when she learned of her current pregnancy. Her baby is due in a few weeks and she said she hasn't smoked since July.

"I want something radically different for this child," she said after the rally.

The 31-year-old Lexington woman attributed her success to her participation in a smoking-cessation program, which offered both counseling and an alternative list of activities to do when she had the urge to smoke. She said she uses that list as her screen-saver on her cell phone.

Williams talked about how hard it was to quit, but said every day she didn't smoke was a victory and she wants to encourage other pregnant women to keep trying, even if they relapse.

"I want to help other women who don't think it's possible," she said after the rally.

Smoking during pregnancy can cause miscarriage, premature birth, low birth weight, a variety of birth defects and even infant death, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Chandler also pointed out that pregnant smokers are also a budget issue because of the added expense incurred by the state to care for many of these infants, noting that women who smoke during pregnancy are two and a half times more likely to be on Medicaid.

women.smokefree.gov
Amanda Fallin-Bennett, a tobacco-control researcher in the University of Kentucky College of Nursing, said that while access to tobacco-cessation treatment is important for women who want to quit smoking during pregnancy, raising the cigarette tax by at least $1 would be more effective.

"Research shows that the most effective way to reduce smoking is raising the tobacco tax," Fallin-Bennett said. "In fact pregnant women along with kids are particularly likely to quit or reduce their smoking when the price goes up."

The CDC says: "A $1 increase in cigarette taxes increased quit rates among pregnant women by 5 percentage points. Higher cigarette prices also reduced the number of women who start smoking again after delivery."

Angela Brumley-Shelton, a tobacco coordinator with the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department, said that while researchers know that exposure to maternal smoking and second-hand smoke after birth puts an infant at a higher risk of death, they are still working to determine exactly why that is. "But in Kentucky, we know that it is one of the most consistent risk," she said.

Pregnant women who want to quit smoking should talk to their health care provider about quitting. The state tobacco quit line (1-800-QUIT-NOW or 1-800-784-8669) also offers special services and counseling for pregnant women and for those who have recently delivered. Click here to learn more about the state's quit line. The Smokefree Women website also offers tips and tools to help pregnant women quit smoking.

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