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Smoking as risky as alcohol, drugs during pregnancy, researcher says

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Getting pregnant women to stop smoking is just as important as getting them to stop using alcohol and illicit drugs, a researcher and psychologist told health-care providers Friday morning.

Beth Bailey, a psychologist who serves as program director for the Tennessee Intervention for Pregnant Smokers, said doctors sometimes tend to prioritize having pregnant women stop using harder drugs and alcohol before they stop smoking.

"What's important to recognize is that tobacco is as dangerous as these other substances," Bailey said.

Bailey was one of several speakers at the 2013 Perinatal Summit, sponsored by the West Virginia Perinatal Partnership and Charleston Area Medical Center's Health Education and Research Institute. The annual event took place Friday at the Robert C. Byrd Health Sciences Center of WVU Charleston.

Bailey said health-care providers should include tobacco in the list of drugs that women should not use while pregnant.

People who smoke tend to do so continuously, she said. There are very few casual smokers.

Smoking while pregnant can lead to low birth weight in babies, miscarriages and preterm birth. There's also an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome and language delays in children.

While there's no safe amount of smoking for pregnant women, the more they smoke, the worse the outcomes for their babies, she said.

Bailey's TIPS program serves Tennessee's Appalachian region, where about 30 percent of pregnant women smoke, she said.

The program involves training health-care providers to ask their patients about smoking and warn them of the harm to their babies.

Staff counselors -- health educators trained in smoking cessation -- also talk with pregnant women at prenatal practices about quitting smoking and the other stress-causing issues going on in their lives. The counseling looks different for each patient, Bailey said.

"If you have a woman that's sitting in front of you who has food insecurity, housing insecurity and has intimate-partner violence, the last thing on her mind is trying to quit smoking," she said.

The goal of the program is to have pregnant women stop or significantly reduce their smoking by the time they are 20 weeks along.

Over five years, 3,000 pregnant women who smoked were counseled and another 8,000 received information from their health-care provider, Bailey said.

The most successful quitters were women who met with a counselor multiple times, he said.

"But even women who worked with the counselor fewer than four times, we had a 28 percent [quit rate]," she said. "Which, if you follow tobacco cessation programs at all, is ... large." Another third of the women cut their smoking by at least half, she said.

Women who were counseled four or more times had a quit rate of 35 percent, she said.

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


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