Calls for tests to out pregnant smokers

More than one in ten Australian women smoke while pregnant.

The head of anti-smoking authority Quit Victoria has echoed calls to breath-test pregnant women to check if they are smoking after Britain’s healthcare body successfully introduced the scheme.

Carbon monoxide breath tests, enforced by Britain’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, are proposed to be administered by midwives at antenatal appointments.

The new measures follow the shocking revelation that 21 per cent of British women smoke during pregnancy, The Times reports.

In Australia, more than one in ten women who were pregnant smoked during some or all of their pregnancy in 2010 according to data from government body Tobacco in Australia.

In the period before they knew they were pregnant, 11.7 per cent of pregnant women smoked and 7.7 per cent reported that they smoked after discovering they were pregnant.

Quit’s executive director Fiona Sharkie says the number of women smoking could be much higher than reported as women don’t want to disclosed the fact that they are smoking.

“We think around 30 to 35 per cent of women who smoke who are pregnant might not disclose that they are smoking,” she said.

“They’re fearful of being criticised because they know that it’s bad, they know that they’ll be told they shouldn’t do that.”

In addition to those who conceal their habit, Ms Sharkie said that while around 40 per cent of women will quit immediately on finding out that they are pregnant, many will relapse and start smoking again after spontaneously quitting and this may not be revealed when expectant mothers are asked by midwives, as enforced by government requirements, when they present as pregnant and again at 20 weeks.

A government-implemented scheme similar to Britain’s mandatory monoxide tests, Ms Sharkie says, should be implemented in Australia to confirm and reduce the number of women who smoke during pregnancy and curtail damaging effects of the habit on their unborn children.

But introducing tests would likely spark backlash from midwives and patients as it has in the UK.

“Midwives are very fearful of compromising a very important relationship,” she said.

“Some are very uncomfortable with the idea because they fear that the woman will feel railroaded into it and get the impression that the midwife doesn’t trust her, it compromises the relationship.”

Though most women know that smoking while pregnant is bad, many continue smoking because it’s very addictive, and due to myths that abound about women who smoked through pregnancy with little effect on their children — contradictory to facts about the health of children of smokers.

“We’re now seeing that children of smoking mothers later in life have more behavioural problems, more incidents of ADD and other disorders, and they do less well at school largely because there’s more cases of respiratory illnesses and childhood illnesses which means more days off school,” Ms Sharkie says.

While becoming pregnant is a huge motivator for women to quit smoking, health effects on children of women who smoke before becoming pregnant combined with the known effects on smokers’ own health provide a strong case for quitting at any time.

“Women’s shouldn’t just quit smoking because of their baby, for a woman who smokes, the best thing a woman should do is quit — we want to protect both the baby and the mother,” Ms Sharkie said.

“Children and smoking don’t mix.”

Related stories

Unwind and relax with your favourite magazine!

Huge savings plus FREE home delivery