W.Va. leads nation in pregnant smokers
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - More than a fourth of pregnant women in West Virginia smoked last year, putting themselves and their babies at risk.
The state's 27.3 percent maternal smoking rate was the highest rate in the country and nearly triple the national average, according to a recent report from the state Department of Health and Human Resource's Health Statistics Center. The state's rate was up slightly over the previous year and has hovered around 25 percent the past 10 years.
McDowell County had the highest rate of pregnant smokers, at more than 42 percent, the report said. The lowest rate, 15.8 percent, was in Monongalia County.
All total, smoking mothers across the state gave birth to about 5,500 babies last year.
"West Virginia has a virtual sustained epidemic of maternal smoking during pregnancy," said Dan Christy, who directs the Health Statistics Center. "It isn't healthy, and it's endangering the baby."
Smoking during pregnancy increases the risk of low-birth weight and premature babies, and can lead to a host of illnesses, including heart disease, breathing difficulties and mental health problems.
National researchers suggest pregnant smokers are typically poor, less educated and have less access to health care. The state's study found that a lack of education played a major role in West Virginia's numbers.
Christy noted that some women at a recent focus group meeting said they smoked during pregnancy because they thought they would have easier deliveries if their babies were smaller.
The state study found that more than half of women who didn't graduate from high school smoked while pregnant. It also found that more than 40 percent of West Virginia women covered by government-funded Medicaid health insurance smoked during pregnancy.
Christy said it's obvious that existing programs to curb smoking among pregnant women are not working.
National research released last month indicated the "quit for your baby" message is too simplistic an approach for many women. It also suggested that many pregnant women who smoke may also suffer from depression, which makes it even more difficult to kick the habit.
A committee of state health advocates recently issued a list of recommendations that include increasing the state excise tax on tobacco products and expanding the state tobacco "Quitline," which offers free smoking-cessation services to all pregnant women.
The committee also urged the state to increase funding for tobacco-prevention programs from $6 million a year to $14 million, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.