A new study of pregnant women reveals a large gap between the number who self report smoking during pregnancy, and the number who test positive for nicotine exposure.

Closeup on tummy of pregnant woman, wearing long green dress, hoThe study, published in the Journal of Perinatology, detected high-level nicotine exposure for 16.5% of women in the study and low-level exposure for an additional 7.5%. Only 8.6% admitted to using cigarettes. Researchers admit they cannot tell the difference between nicotine from tobacco use, electronic cigarettes, or nicotine replacement.  The study also revealed that an additional 7.5% of women tested positive for 2nd smoke during pregnancy, bringing total smoke exposure up to nearly 1 in 4 women.

“This is extremely important new information for us as we work to better understand risk factors for preterm birth,” said Jim Greenberg, MD, director of the Perinatal Institute at Cincinnati Children’s. “We have long suspected that smoking status during pregnancy is under-reported, but now we know just how many women struggle to quit smoking when they are pregnant.”

Smoking during pregnancy has been shown to increase the risk of premature birth by over 25%.  It is also a proven risk factor for other birth defects. All 3 of the leading causes of infant death are negatively affected by tobacco use.

The study reveals the importance of public health efforts to decrease tobacco and electronic cigarette/vaporizer use among pregnant minority women. African American women reported tobacco use rates of 7.9% but that number rose to 21.1% using specific measurement of nicotine detection.

“The public health community has long assumed that targeted campaigns toward minority women are not needed because we’ve relied on self-reported data,” said Dr. Greenberg. “This new information suggests that that approach is profoundly incorrect and that new support needs to be offered to a population that’s too often been ignored when it comes to anti-smoking efforts.”

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