Jeffersontown, KY – A new Blueprint for Kentucky’s Children Issue Brief released today by Kentucky Youth Advocates, reveals that Kentucky has one of the highest rates of smoking during pregnancy in the nation. Clearing the Air for All Kentucky Children highlights the need for a comprehensive, statewide smoke-free law to reduce exposure to harmful secondhand smoke for children and unborn children and reduce smoking during pregnancy.

Nearly one in four (23 percent) Kentucky babies born in 2011 had mothers who smoked during pregnancy. Smoking during pregnancy can cause health problems for the mother, and also increases the risk of miscarriage, and preterm delivery. Cigarette smoking during pregnancy is the single most important known cause of low birthweight, which increases a newborn’s risk for serious health problems such as developmental and intellectual disabilities, cerebral palsy, and vision and hearing loss. Additionally, babies whose mothers smoked during pregnancy are more likely to die before their first birthday, and are three times more likely to die from sudden infant death syndrome. In 97 counties, more than one in every four births was to a mother who smoked during pregnancy during 2009-2011.

Smoking during Pregnancy Rates, 2009-2011

In addition, Kentucky tops the nation in the number of adult smokers at 28.3 percent, exposing many children and adults who choose not to smoke to harmful secondhand smoke. According to the U.S. Surgeon General, “when individuals inhale cigarette smoke, either directly or secondhand, they are inhaling more than 7,000 chemicals; hundreds of these are hazardous, and at least 69 are known to cause cancer.” Secondhand smoke exposure affects many workers, including youth workers and pregnant women who do not smoke but work in places where smoking is allowed. They have to make the difficult decision of trying to find another job or exposing their unborn child to secondhand smoke.

The brief recommends the Kentucky legislature enact a statewide, comprehensive smoke-free law that would ensure all Kentucky kids and pregnant women have the opportunity to work and fully participate in their communities without exposure to the dangers of secondhand smoke. Smoke-free policies have proven successful in reducing smoking during pregnancy and exposure to secondhand smoke. However, only a little more than a third of Kentucky children are currently protected by strong local smoke-free policies.

“We know smoke-free policies will improve the health of Kentucky newborns,” said Terry Brooks, executive director at Kentucky Youth Advocates. “But, children and unborn babies in 85 counties are not protected from the harmful effects of secondhand smoke. There were more than 25,000 babies born in 2011 to mothers without the protection of a comprehensive, smoke-free policy in their county. We need to protect all kids, not just those kids lucky enough to live in a smoke-free community. Kentucky babies can’t wait.”

Kentucky leaders will have the opportunity to make protection from secondhand smoke a reality for kids across the state during the 2014 General Assembly. Representative Susan Westrom (D) and Representative Julie Raque Adams (R) are planning to co-sponsor legislation to enact a comprehensive, statewide smoke-free law covering all indoor workplaces and public places. Currently, 24 states have comprehensive, statewide smoke-free laws in place.

“With some of the highest rates in the nation of smoking and smoking during pregnancy, it’s time to do what we know works and pass a comprehensive, statewide smoke-free law in Kentucky,” said Representative Westrom. “The year for this to happen is 2014 – children throughout Kentucky need us to take action.”

“Kentucky now spends more than $5 million on neonatal care directly related to smoking during pregnancy, and total health care costs attributable to smoking exceed $1.5 billion,” said Representative Adams. “A smoke-free law would reduce the state’s health care costs. It’s good for the health of Kentucky children, and it’s good for the state budget.”

Clearing the Air for All Kentucky Children also promotes resources to help quit smoking (see resources to stop smoking below). The brief is available at or can be found here. For questions about this brief or to schedule an interview, please contact Andrea Bennett at or 502-381-1176.