• By Kevin Mount
  • Posted on Thursday 03rd January, 2008

Smoke alarms don't stop pregnant women lighting up

The French may have shuddered when the fume of Gauloises and Gitanes was banned for ever from their cafes this week, but there’s no let-up in the evidence: when it comes to keeping their children safe, more than buckling their seat belts or installing a home smoke detector, the best thing parents can do is to stop smoking. By one US estimate, tobacco smoke exposure kills more children under the age of five than all injuries combined. And children's exposure to tobacco in utero and afterwards is perhaps the most ubiquitous and dangerous of all environmental hazards.Undeterred, one in five US adults smoke and in Europe the rate is even higher: one in three are smokers. And, as elsewhere, low-income Americans are more likely to smoke than their more affluent counterparts: a recent study of first-time mothers living in poor, rural communities found that two-thirds were smokers.Anne McDonald Culp and colleagues at the University of Central Florida and also at Illinois State University and the Oklahoma State Department of Health, launched a study to see if home visitors could curb young mothers’ smoking along with other behaviors that endanger children’s well-being. Their study involved 263 first time mothers, 156 of whom lived in rural communities participating in the Community-Based Family Resource and Support (CBFRS) Program. The CBFRS women were given health and safety tuition – with a strong emphasis on the dangers of cigarette smoking – by home visitors with degrees in child development. Most mothers were visited about ten times before they gave birth and another 20 times afterwards. The other mothers came from similar backgrounds as the CBFRS group but lived in communities where the program did not operate.The research team found that smokers in both groups tended not to quit during pregnancy. Once their children were born, however, the CBFRS mothers smoked, on average, two cigarettes a day fewer than the mothers in the non-CBFRS group. Thus the program seems to have helped reduce children’s exposure to second-hand smoke. It also appears to have increased the safety of homes, improved mothers’ knowledge of the effects of smoking on children and increased use of local health department services. For all that, the gains seem modest in comparison to the size of the problem. It’s troublesome that the program made no impact on prenatal smoking, nor did CBFRS mothers’ better knowledge of the danger of smoking translate into significant reductions in their use of cigarettes. All fuel to the logic behind direct Government action.[See also: Scottish smoking ban is good for children]• Summary of “Health and safety intervention with first-time mothers” by Anne McDonald Culp, R. E. Culp, J.W. Anderson, and S. Carter in Health Education Research, Volume 22, Number 2, 2007, pp285-294.

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