Island Health Authority hopes to reduce maternal smoking rate

Health officials hope new measures will help reduce the relatively high number of pregnant women who smoke on Vancouver Island.

Health officials hope new measures will help reduce the relatively high number of pregnant women who smoke on Vancouver Island.

The Vancouver Island Health Authority has noted a maternal smoking rate higher than the provincial average since at least 2001. In 2006-07, more than 16 per cent of births involved maternal smoking compared to the provincial average of about 10.5 per cent, the authority’s statistics show.

Central Vancouver Island has a three-year average rate of maternal smoking of 17 per cent, compared to 17.1 per cent in the north of the island and 14.9 per cent in the south.

A Statistics Canada report released last week showed the number of female smokers aged 25 and over had dropped from 18 per cent to 15 per cent between 2007 and 2008. B.C. had the lowest rate of daily smokers in Canada at 10 per cent.

Maternal smoking has been linked to increased rates of infant mortality and higher admission rates to hospitals for respiratory diseases on Vancouver Island. But one advocate for women said that although it’s easy to blame the mothers for their poor choices, people need to understand the social issues that have influenced their decisions.

Mike Pennock, population health epidemiologist with the health authority, said previous research has found a connection between the island’s higher rates of maternal smoking, adolescent births and infant mortality.

Also, the hospital admission rate for people under the age of 15 for respiratory illness, including asthma and bronchitis, in the health authority’s jurisdiction was 26-per-cent higher than the provincial average for 2007-08. Maternal smoking could be one of several issues behind this trend.

Pennock, working with a researcher at the B.C. Centre of Excellence for Women’s Health, examined what the best practices were for reducing maternal smoking.

Their findings included having health care professionals, such as pediatricians, work closer with the moms to help provide them with the resources they need to quit, while avoiding the use of scare tactics.

“Those kind of programs appear to work better than educational programs that try to scare the mother … those kind of initiatives don’t work very well,” said Pennock, adding the health authority is currently working on implementing these initiatives.

Dr. Lorna Medd, medical health officer, said the health authority will be analysing the maternal smoking trend closely. She points out that social factors influence people’s health and this likely plays a role in the island’s higher rate.

Anne Spilker, executive director of Nanaimo’s Haven Society, sometimes works with pregnant mothers who smoke. She thinks people should consider their circumstances before passing judgment. “It’s easier for us to find a scapegoat, than to look at all the underlying issues,” said Spilker. “I remember one young mom saying to me, ‘If I stoppedcigarettes online buy, I’d be a nervous wreck and it would be worse for my child.'”

Spilker said that intense stress, such as being a single mom with little income, will often drive people to smoke. It’s only with proper support that they can kick the habit.


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