Since the 80’s, it has been widely accepted that alcohol, drugs, and tobacco are all extremely harmful for pregnant women and can end up resulting in fatal health risks for the mother and the child. Despite this having been acknowledged, a recent study by researchers from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center revealed that the statistics being given out about the number of pregnant women smoking were highly inaccurate.
According to this study that was conducted on 708 women who gave birth at a particular maternity hospital in Ohio, it was revealed that there was a significant gap between the number of pregnant women who reported smoking while being pregnant and the number of pregnant women who had tested positive for nicotine exposure. The fact that such a high number of cases were unreported was deemed highly problematic and detrimental to the health of both mothers and children.
In the hospital this research was conducted in, mandatory maternal urine samples were taken in the last trimester as a self-reported measure of smoking. All maternity centers in Ohio now collect a urine sample to test for opioids in the system, simply because of the rapid increase in popularity among women. Cotinine, which is a byproduct of tobacco exposure, in the urine is a dead giveaway of tobacco and nicotine exposure. This is how researches were able to detect the high number of the mother who had exposure to nicotine despite not being reported smokers.
The results of the study showcased high-level nicotine exposure for a total 16.5 percent of pregnant women in the hospital, as well as low-level exposure for 7.5 percent women. Even though these facts were shared, only 8.6 percent admitted to smoking cigarettes. The fact the e-cigarette usage was not factored into nicotine exposure could be a reason why all means of nicotine exposure were not correctly recorded.
Nicotine exposure during pregnancy is highly risky and can result in birth defects, sudden infant death syndrome, and possible incurable abnormalities in the child. It can also result in preterm birth. It has been reported that smoking cigarettes can result in an increase of about 25 percent in the risk of preterm births, which are risky for both the mother and the child. The nicotine in itself is simply an addictive chemical. What causes the most harm are the various dangerous chemicals present in cigarettes and e-cigarettes. The nicotine turning into cotinine simply becomes a means for which to record statistics about pregnant women who smoke or are exposed to tobacco, accurately.
Another troublesome area of information that this study revealed was the fact that minority women, especially African American women, tended to be more likely to have nicotine exposure during their pregnancy. Though the reported usage of cigarettes by pregnant African American women was 7.9 percent, when cotinine levels were studied through urine samples a shocking 21 percent were revealed to have had nicotine exposure during their pregnancy. This new piece of information showcased that awareness and public health campaigns that had previously not targeted minorities must be revised to cater to them as well.
A highly problematic percentage of 7.5 was reported regarding second-hand exposure to smoking and nicotine, which is harmful nonetheless. When all these percentiles were calculated and combined, a shocking 1 out of 4 women was said to have had exposure to nicotine during pregnancy. This number was far higher than what the reported number of pregnant smokers had previously been.
What this study revealed was that incorrect measures to calculate nicotine exposure, and lack of campaigns towards minorities were highly detrimental factors to overall public health. Public campaigns raising awareness about the risks and harms of e-cigarettes and cigarette smoking, especially for pregnant women must be focused on.