By Stephen Baldwin, RealWV
February 6, 2023
According to data released last week by the National Center for Health Statistics, the number of mothers who smoked during their pregnancy declined drastically over the last five years.
In 2016, 7.2% of all pregnant mothers nationwide smoked. By 2021, that fell to 4.6%. Overall, that represents a 36% decline.
West Virginia, however, continues to lead the nation in maternal cigarette smoking. While the percentage has declined, it remains at 18.2%. Nearly one in five mothers smoke while carrying a child in West Virginia. Kentucky registers second in the nation at 12.7%.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), “Smoking during pregnancy is an established risk factor for adverse pregnancy outcomes and health issues for newborns later in life.”
Reported negative outcomes for children include birth defects, developmental delays, lung and brain tissue damage, low birth weight, and higher incidence of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Mothers who smoke are also more likely to experience infertility and miscarriage.
Dr. Ayne Amjad recently served as the State Health Officer for West Virginia and now serves as Director of Correctional Health Care for the West Virginia Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and an Assistant Professor of Medicine at the Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine. She believes the decline is due to the population becoming more educated on the dangers of smoking over time.
“People are aware of the health effects on themselves and the baby,” Amjad said. “It is also harder to smoke in public now.”
What can be done to further reduce the maternal smoking rates in West Virginia? Dr. Amjad said, “It’s not a popular approach, but I would tax cigarettes a little more.” She says the extra funds could be used to help bolster smoking cessation programs.
“I also believe people smoke because they are anxious or depressed, and it helps relieve that stress,” Amjad said. “So having proper mental health can help reduce smoking.”