Tas­ma­nian ba­bies dy­ing as smok­ing rates climb again

Nearly half of Tassie moth­ers un­der 20 smoke and very few can quit, writes Kathryn Barnsley

Mercury (Hobart) - - TALKING POINT - Dr Kathryn Barnsley is co­con­vener of SmokeFree Tas­ma­nia and an ad­junct re­searcher at the School of Medicine, Univer­sity of Tas­ma­nia.

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.

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