Tasmanian babies dying as smoking rates climb again
Nearly half of Tassie mothers under 20 smoke and very few can quit, writes Kathryn Barnsley
DAMNING figures have been released by the Tasmanian Department of Health which show that smoking rates among pregnant women, after years of decline, have risen again and are back to 2013 levels.
The most shocking statistic from the Obstetric and Paediatric Mortality and Morbidity Report is the 40 per cent smoking rate in teenage mothers under 20 years, followed by a 27 per cent smoking rate in women 20 to 24 years.
Overall 14.5 per cent of pregnant women in Tasmania are smokers. We do not blame these young women for smoking.
These girls and women were targeted by the tobacco industry and are now targeted by its partners – the peak retail organisations.
Cigarettes have been designed and engineered to be more addictive. More additives, filter ventilation, menthol, flavours and attractive “slim” design. The industry wants smokers to start as young as possible.
Teenagers can become addicted before their brain is fully developed at age 25 years, and before they can properly assess the risks.
Retailer peak associations oppose action on raising the smoking age to 21 years.
Government is apparently indifferent to the plight of mothers who deliver dead or sick babies, their grief and that of their partners and families.
Are the retailer peak organisations popping the champagne corks in delight that they have achieved an increase in smoking rates in 18 to 21-year-old pregnant teenagers? More money in their wallets?
Raising the smoking age to 21 years (T21) Bill currently before the Tasmanian parliament, would prevent the uptake of smoking in younger women before they become pregnant.
These young pregnant smokers suffer stigma, fear for their babies, guilt and shame. We should support them. It is very hard for them to quit once they are pregnant, and the quit rates of most programs for pregnant women are abysmal, as low as 7 per cent.
One recent successful program using carbon monoxide monitoring trialled at the Royal Hobart Hospital achieved a quit rate of about 36 per cent.
The report says: “Smoking during pregnancy is regarded as one of the key preventable causes of low birth weight and preterm birth. Low birth weight babies (less than 2500 grams) are more likely to die in the first year of life and are more susceptible to chronic illness later in life, such as heart and kidney disease and diabetes.”
The implication for our society is long term – more preterm babies, sick or dead babies, SIDS, cerebral palsy,
children turning up at schools with significant deficits and behavioural disorders including ADHD.
Offspring of pregnant smokers are more likely to commit violent crimes into adulthood – a lesser known consequence of smoking during pregnancy.
Presumably the Government’s answer to this crisis is to build another bigger prison, rather than act to prevent smoking uptake in young men and women.
Nothing is being done on prevention.
Some good work is being done on support and cessation, but this is too late for many women and babies. And let us not forget the young fathers, many of whom also smoke, and who are also grieving for their lost or maimed babies and children.
The Government and many MPs give credence and priority to the opinion of peak retailers and the tobacco industry.
Those same politicians do not want to hear compelling evidence and address the reality as just reported by medical specialists. We should put babies before tobacco industry profits.
This is catastrophic.
The Tasmanian Government can do two things.
Firstly, roll out the successful “Carbon monoxide testing to motivate women to Quit” program across all Tasmanian hospital antenatal clinics as well as ramp up midwife and doctor training on cessation support for pregnant women.
Secondly, the Government, and the parliament, should act now to pass the T21 Bill and protect our teenagers from the predatory tobacco industry and their mates.
This would have a dramatic effect on reducing the uptake of smoking across the state.
It would not only save the lives of adults.
It will save Tasmanian babies.