State’s rate of pregnant smokers is unacceptable

An editorial from the Parkersburg News and Sentinel

PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — We often hear laments these days about the way things used to be – “I rode my bicycle without a helmet, and I turned out fine,” or “No one ever put me in a car seat, and I turned out fine.” There is even a line in a country song, “We were born to mothers who smoked and drank …”

In fact, it appears more West Virginians are living in the bad ole days of mothers who smoke than in any other state. West Virginia’s Kids Count released a study this week showing one in four women in the state smoke while pregnant. That is an astounding number of women who have chosen to continue smoking while they are pregnant – who have ignored the information and warnings we have all received over the past several decades.

Sadly, Wirt County has the highest percentage of women who smoked while pregnant, at 44.2 percent. The national average is 8.9 percent.

“Well I was addicted to it … so I smoked with all four of my kids,” said one woman quoted by the study.

If the health of their unborn children is not enough to convince these women to battle their addiction, the key is clearly to stop them from getting addicted in the first place. Fetal growth restriction, sudden infant death syndrome, low birth-weight, premature birth, preterm infant death, birth defects, colic, asthma and other behavioral or psychiatric disorders are just a few of the problems women know can result from smoking while pregnant. That is saying nothing of the health risks to themselves.

Of course, West Virginia is still trying to figure out how to tackle the prevalence of nicotine addiction in our state, but the health of our next generation should be one more spur to that process. While policymakers and health professionals can be part of the solution, the majority of the work must be done by women who owe it to themselves, to their children, and to society as a whole to stop smoking – not just while pregnant. They would not simply be setting a better example for their kids, they could be saving their lives.

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