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Rate of smoking during pregnancy 'quite depressing,' W.Va. doctor laments

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The rate of West Virginia women who smoke while pregnant has declined over the years but it's still "depressing," a Huntington medical professor said Thursday.

"I see smoking in pregnancy all the time," said Dr. Brenda Dawley, an associate professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Marshall University's Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine.

"It's quite depressing actually, how bad it is in West Virginia," Dawley said.

Dawley said the rate of smoking among pregnant women in West Virginia is about 35 percent and is higher in some counties. That's decreased from 50 percent 12 years ago, she said.

Dawley, who practices at Cabell Huntington Hospital, made her comments Thursday during a workshop at the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources' Integrated Behavioral Health Conference at the Charleston Civic Center.

Dawley said West Virginia's smoking rate among women, unlike many other states, has not decreased drastically.

"Except for Mississippi and Kentucky," she said, "all the other states are showing a dramatic decrease in their adult smoking rate."

Part of that problem is a cultural acceptance of smoking in West Virginia, but it's also the price of cigarettes, she said.

"We have some of the cheapest cigarettes," Dawley said. She added that a pack of cigarettes costs $9.50 in Chicago and $15 in London.

"So we're kind of missing the boat here," she said.

West Virginia has one of the highest rates of lung cancer in the nation, Dawley said.

Women who smoke during pregnancy are more likely to have ectopic pregnancies, low birth-weight babies and preterm births, she said.

The chances of contracting Sudden Infant Death Syndrome also are higher for babies if the mother smokes, she said.

Dawley advised the medical professionals at the workshop to encourage their patients not to smoke. She gives her pregnant patients who want to quit smoking a nicotine patch, even though they are not FDA approved, she said. Stopping "cold turkey" without a patch is best, but nicotine patches have less nicotine than cigarettes, she said. The patches also don't have any carbon monoxide or carcinogens, which are found in cigarette smoke.

Most people who successfully stop smoking use a patch or a similar method, she said.

Dawley called smoking the most important changeable risk factor for adverse pregnancy outcomes.

"Other risks we might not be able to fix," Dawley said, "but we should be able to change the fact that you're a smoker."

Reach Lori Kersey at lori.kersey@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.


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