Children fare best when they have a healthy start in life, and this opportunity begins during pregnancy. But many healthy starts are compromised in Kentucky due to mothers smoking during pregnancy. During the 2007-2009 period, 25 percent of all births were to mothers who smoked at some point during pregnancy. Kentucky’s rate of smoking during pregnancy – the highest in the nation – is particularly troubling given the serious consequences on children’s health. The U.S. Surgeon General found a causal relationship between cigarette smoke and fetal growth problems, low birthweight, preterm delivery, and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Smoking during pregnancy also increases the risk for birth defects, respiratory disorders, and cognitive and behavioral disorders, among other negative outcomes.

There is some good news however. Number one: if a woman stops smoking at any point in her pregnancy, even during the third trimester, the baby’s health can improve. Number two: Kentucky’s legislature has taken recent steps towards reducing smoking during pregnancy by raising the cigarette tax to 60 cents per pack in 2009 and providing funding in 2010 for tobacco cessation programs for Medicaid recipients. Number three: Kentucky cities and counties are adopting smoke-free laws and regulations, which help reduce the exposure to and negative effects of secondhand smoke on pregnant women and their babies.

There is more we can do as a state to protect the health of our youngest citizens, including:

  • Promoting vigilant screening, counseling, and smoking cessation referrals for pregnant women and women of reproductive age by all health care providers.
  • Raising the tobacco tax further, as studies have shown a 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes yields a 7 percent reduction in smoking by pregnant women; and using that revenue to fund advertising counter to that of the tobacco industry.
  • Increasing the amount of tobacco settlement fund and tobacco tax revenue dollars dedicated to prevention and treatment (as Kentucky spends far less on its tobacco control program than the level recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention); and
  • Enacting a statewide smoke-free law that eliminates secondhand smoke in all public places and work places.

For more information on this Kentucky KIDS COUNT indicator view the 2011County Data Book here.

Kentucky Youth Advocates thanks the KIDS COUNT Data Sponsor Kentucky Voices for Health for their support of this indicator.