Many pregnant women are dangerously exposed to second-hand smoke

Harold Mandel's picture
A smoker

Exposure of to second-hand smoke during pregnancy can cause very serious negative health consequences for the unborn child. Women who are pregnant are generally counseled about how important it is to eat well and to avoid toxins such as cigarette smoke and alcohol. It would appear rational to assume that the spouses and others who are around pregnant women also understand how sensitive the unborn fetus is to toxins. Yet, pregnant women are often dangerously exposed to second-hand smoke from these people.

A recent study in Spain showed that more than 50 percent of women were exposed to second-hand smoke in their 3rd trimester of pregnancy, reported the journal Science of the Total Environment. Researchers decided to investigate the primary sources of and sociodemographic factors which are associated with second-hand smoke exposure in non-smoking pregnant women. Their assessment was made by both questionnaire and by urinary cotinine (UC) levels. The researchers conducted a cross-sectional study in pregnant women from 4 different regions in Spain.

In this study a total of 1783 non-smoking pregnant women completed a questionnaire dealing with their previous smoking habit and second-hand smoke exposure in their 3rd trimester of pregnancy and provided a urine sample for measuring UC levels. It was observed that the following variables were associated with exposure to second-hand smoke:

1: Having smoked previously

2: Low educational level

3: Being primiparous

The data showed after the first law in Spain banning smoking in public places, there was an association with lower risk of second-hand smoke exposure in restaurants and at work. UC levels were found to be higher among women who were exposed to more than one source. Pregnant women who had a partner who smoked at home were found to be the source of second-hand which had the greatest impact on UC levels, followed by:

1: Having a partner who smoked but not at home


2: Other people smoking in the household

3: Being exposed during leisure time, at work and at restaurants

And so having a partner who smoked at home was concluded to be the most significant source of second-hand smoke exposure. Therefore it has been suggested prevention of second-hand smoke exposure should be addressed both with pregnant women and also with their families.

This study, which was done by researchers at 13 research centers in Spain, found that 55 percent of pregnant women are passive smokers, due primarily to their partners, reported Basque Research. These women are exposed to the effect of tobacco smoke to a considerable degree because a member of their household, who was found to be their partner in particular, smokes at home.

Juanjo Aurrekoetxea, one of the researchers, said, “Tobacco smoke has been found to have a detrimental effect on the fetus when pregnant women are under the effect of it.” There is an increased risk of miscarriage with exposure to passive tobacco smoke. The problem of exposure to passive smoke may be very serious for the child’s development even in the absence of a miscarriage. Exposed children are generally smaller with lower cognitive development. These kids also have to a lesser extent:

1: A greater sudden death rate

2: A greater risk of suffering cancer in childhood

3: A greater risk of suffering respiratory disease in childhood

The researchers stressed that the greatest exposure of pregnant women to second-hand smoke happens when the woman's partner smokes at home. Other people smoking at home also causes high degrees of exposure. The researchers pointed out that even though people everywhere appear aware that tobacco is bad and that passive exposure is also bad, many people still fail to take the necessary measures not to smoke, and not to force pregnant women to breath in tobacco smoke.

I have observed pregnant women often being exposed to second-hand smoke. It appears the findings from this study in Spain can probably be generalized to have similar significance in the United States and other countries. It also appears criminal in nature for pregnant women, their spouses and others to expose unborn babies to second-hand smoke. Clearly, much more aggressive initiatives must be taken by physicians to impress upon all family members and others the vital importance of helping pregnant women avoid exposure to second-hand smoke. Public health officials should also consider more aggressive education campaigns along these lines.