By Joe Biesk
The Associated Press
FRANKFORT - While the number of Kentucky women who smoked during their pregnancies decreased during the last decade, the state still had the second highest nationwide percentage of pregnant smokers, according to a published state report.
Kentucky's percentage of pregnant women who smoked was just more than 23 percent in 1999 and 2000, the report found. Kentucky was second to West Virginia, its neighboring state to the east.
"It was kind of an eye-opener because when you look at it, one in four pregnant women (in Kentucky) smoke currently," said Tracey Jewell, a state epidemiologist and co-author of the report. "That says quite a bit right there."
Among other complications, smoking during pregnancy often results in lower baby birth weights, sudden infant death syndrome and respiratory distress syndrome.
Based on data from Kentucky birth certificates, the report found that between 1991 and 2000 the percentage of pregnant smokers dropped from 27 percent to 23.4 percent. Still, that percentage has not changed much since about 1995, according to the Department for Public Health report.
In the years studied, nearly 33 percent of expectant mothers ages 15 to 19 smoked during their pregnancies - the largest percentage in any age category in the state. Nationwide, the number of pregnant teens who smoke was about 18 percent, said Danny McGoldrick, research director at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
Irene Centers, a state program manager for smoking prevention and cessation programs, said the state's overall percentage of smokers, 30 percent, reflects in the number of pregnant teenagers who smoke. Younger women may not know the dangers of smoking and can even misinterpret some of the warnings, Centers said.
"Some of them feel, 'Well, if I'll continue to smoke, I'll have a low birth weight baby, and that's a good thing ...,' " Centers said. "In reality it is definitely a risk for the child."
She said the state is trying to focus this year on educating pregnant women about all the dangers smoking could cause their babies. She said recent smoking programs give officials hope the numbers will start to decline.
Increasing the state's tobacco tax along with promoting smoking prevention and cessation programs should help decrease the number of pregnant smokers, McGoldrick said.
Women ages 20 to 24 had the second highest percentage of pregnant smokers - about 29 percent. The study found that the older a women was, the less likely she would smoke during pregnancy.
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23% of pregnant Ky. women smoke, study says