One in seven women in Wisconsin smoke during their pregnancy, according to a study released in July by the U.W. Carbone Cancer Center.

While this is an improvement from 1990, when about one in four pregnant women smoked, the decline in smoking has leveled off in the past two years -- it's currently 14 percent -- and the potential for adverse long-term health effects remain significant.

Nationally, the smoking rate among pregnant women is 10 percent. In Pierce County, that rate is reported to be 13.7 percent.

Pregnant women who smoke put themselves and their babies at much higher risk for a number of serious health conditions.

  • Infants born to women who smoke are twice as likely to be low-birth weights.
  • The mortality rate for infants whose mothers smoked is about twice the rate of those who did not smoke.

The study found significant differences in smoking among different age groups.

For example, 35 percent of white women between ages 18 and 19 smoke, compared to 8 percent of those above 30 years old.

Overall, pregnant white and black women smoke at the same rate, but American Indian women smoke at a much higher rate. Hispanic and Laotian/Hmong women smoke at a much lower rate.

The largest difference between groups is indicated by education, with women who are better educated the least likely to smoke while pregnant.

Only 2 percent of women college graduates smoked, while 24 percent of women with a high school education or less smoked during their pregnancy.

The differences between groups within the population are reflected in differences between counties.

Smoking prevalence among pregnant women in Pierce County was estimated at 13.7 percent in 2005-07. This was a decline of 28.6 percent since 1990-92. Overall, Pierce County was ranked 17th among Wisconsin's 72 counties, with 1 being the best rate.

Reducing smoking during pregnancy has significant public health benefit for families -- healthier babies, improved health for mothers, and smoke-free air in homes. It also helps reduce health-care costs related to low-birth weight babies.

Communities in Wisconsin have made a significant progress in reducing the number of women smoking during pregnancy. But the rates are still too high.

The Pierce County Public Health Service is concerned about the 55 percent cut in Wisconsin's tobacco prevention and control program, because initiatives to prevent smoking among young women and helping people quit in general will be sharply reduced or eliminated.

According to the study, recent data suggest that progress may be stalled further in Wisconsin.

In addition, the recent literature indicates that disparities persist, leaving some groups of women and their unborn children -- particularly the poor and uneducated -- at increased risk of negative health consequences associated with maternal smoking.

Further work needs to be done to meet the goal of Healthy People 2010 to increase abstinence from cigarettes among pregnant women to 99 percent, and to reach the goal of Healthiest Wisconsin 2010 to eliminate health disparities.

Achieving these goals in Wisconsin will take a more concerted, sustained effort from public health agencies, healthcare professionals, and other groups working to reduce the burden associated with smoking in general and especially for women smoking during pregnancy.

More information and free material also is available at Locally, call the Pierce County Public Health at (715) 273-6755 and ask for Carmen Bertelsen, tobacco control coordinator.