The Blueprint for Kentucky’s Children released an issue brief today on the impact of exposure to secondhand smoke on our state’s youngest residents, and the data is astounding. Clearing the Air for All Kentucky Children points out that thousands of babies and children across the Commonwealth are subject to immense dangers from secondhand smoke, particularly in communities without a strong smoke-free policy. Approximately 69 percent of Kentucky’s children live in a community that does not protect all children and pregnant women from secondhand tobacco smoke in workplaces and other enclosed public places.
More than 28,000 babies were born in 2013 in Kentucky counties without strong smoke-free policies, putting them at risk of health complications. Pregnant women exposed to secondhand smoke are more likely to have babies born with a low birthweight (less than 5.5 pounds). Low-birthweight babies face increased risks for serious health problems, developmental and intellectual disabilities, cerebral palsy, and vision and hearing loss. Kentucky’s rate of low-weight newborns is among the worst in the nation, ranking 39th out of 50. Smoke-free policies have been shown to reduce the prevalence of preterm births (a common reason for low birthweight).
Nearly 6,000 times from 2010-2012, Kentucky children were hospitalized due to asthma attacks, and exposure to secondhand smoke is a common trigger. Studies have found significant declines in inpatient asthma hospitalization rates of children following the implementation of comprehensive smoke-free laws. For example, during the 32 months after Lexington’s smoke-free law was enacted, emergency department visits due to asthma declined by 18 percent for children.
More than 10,000 Kentucky babies (or more than one out of every five) are born to a mother who smoked during pregnancy – the highest rate in the nation.
While mothers may smoke during pregnancy to cope with stress, this practice causes harm to unborn babies. Smoking during pregnancy is associated with problems such as miscarriage, still birth, and SIDS, babies being born too soon and at a low birthweight. Kentucky spends $5.6 million on neonatal services directly related to maternal smoking. Indoor smoke-free policies are also effective at reducing maternal smoking during pregnancy, regardless of individual socio-demographic characteristics.
Approximately 77,000 teens ages 16-19 are employed in Kentucky, and many teens work in counties without indoor workplace protections against secondhand smoke. These young workers also need protection from the health implications of breathing secondhand smoke and absorbing nicotine and other harmful chemicals from the deposits left on surfaces long after cigarettes have been extinguished.
The impacts add up for Kentucky’s children and infants, but we can change that. Policies ensuring air is free of smoke in workplaces and other enclosed public places yield many benefits: smokers, including mothers, are encouraged to quit smoking; air quality improves; the health of workers, youth, and citizens in the community improves; and exposure to secondhand smoke decreases. To access the issue brief, including resources to stop smoking, click here.