I’ll never forget the day that I walked by a student of mine who was about 6 months pregnant, yet smelled of fresh cigarette smoke. I asked her if she had been smoking before coming into the building, and she honestly responded that she had been. However, she assured me that she was trying to quit for the sake of her baby. It became an unconscious habit of mine to inauspiciously sniff her each time we came into contact; she hadn’t quit by the time she went on maternity leave.
These days, smoking is highly stigmatized. I remember being in elementary school and buying cigarette gum from the ice-cream truck, or pretending that pretzel sticks were cigars on the school yard during recess. I smoked my first real cigarette at age 12. The tide slowly began to change, and adolescents began to see smoking not just as a health risk, but as simply not cool. Throughout my twenties I struggled with quitting; I could go a few months here and there without buying a pack. And, I must admit that New York’s no-smoking law kept my habit from spiraling out of control. Even still, as a non-pregnant woman, I did everything I could to hide that I was a smoker.
A recent study shows that 13% of 994 surveyed pregnant women were active smokers, and 23% of that 13 reported that they didn’t smoke. Researchers tested levels of cotinine, “a biological indicator of tobacco exposure,” in pregnant women revealing their exposure to cigarette smoke. The sample is nuanced, however, because there’s no way to distinguish between first and second hand smoke based on levels alone.
One thing is clear, there’s definitely help for smokers trying to quit – pregnant or not. Smoking while pregnant isn’t a crime (at least not yet!), so lying about it does no good. If you’re pregnant, addicted, and struggling to quit reach out for help. Many (all??) states have free cessation programs, so seek support not just for your baby, but for you!