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FOR RELEASE: December 4, 2001
CONTACT: Dick Gunn
405/271-5601

State Health Department Announces Great Start Campaign to Help Pregnant Women Stop Smoking

Declaring that smoking during pregnancy threatens the health of mothers and babies in Oklahoma and across the nation, the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) and the American Legacy Foundation launched the Great Start campaign today. The major objective of the campaign is to help pregnant women stop smoking. Nationally, about 426,000 women smoke during pregnancy.

A 1999 study of Oklahoma women with a recent delivery indicated that over 50 percent of women who smoke before pregnancy were unable to quit before the birth of their baby. Oklahoma still has a long way to go to meet the Healthy People 2010 objective of 98 percent of pregnant women abstaining from cigarette smoking.

"Many pregnant mothers want to make the healthy choice and quit smoking," said State Health Commissioner Dr. Leslie Beitsch. "We are proud to be joining the Great Start campaign to provide women the help they need to stop smoking during their pregnancies."

According to the Surgeon General, smoking is the most important modifiable cause of poor pregnancy outcome. Some 20 percent of low birth-weight (less than 5.5 pounds) births, eight percent of pre-term deliveries, and five percent of all prenatal deaths are linked to smoking during pregnancy. Women who smoke during pregnancy, compared to women who don't smoke during pregnancy, are at least twice as likely to have a low birth weight baby," Beitsch said. Low birth weight is the leading preventable cause of infant mortality in Oklahoma.

After pregnancy, in addition to doubling women's lifetime risk of dying from any cause, secondhand smoke increases the risk of SIDS among infants, and causes infants and other young children to be more vulnerable to respiratory illness, middle ear infections, and impaired lung function.

The Great Start campaign is funded by the American Legacy Foundation, a national public health foundation, created by the November 1998 Master Settlement Agreement between state Attorneys General and the tobacco industry.

The Great Start campaign includes:

  • A 24-hour toll-free national "Quitline" offering free counseling sessions. Beginning today, pregnant smokers can call the Quitline number at 1-866-66-START. Spanish language assistance is available.
  • An educational booklet that complements the counseling sessions.
  • A video for pregnant smokers that want to stop smoking.
  • And a television ad that begins airing this month.

The Great Start campaign's funding is for a temporary program with cessation efforts directed at pregnant women. "The State of Oklahoma will have to ensure that these services are continued and expanded if we want to assist the 75 percent of all Oklahoma smokers who want to quit," Beitsch said. "Some of the programs and services that we and other agencies have recently promoted could be used to continue funding the Great Start campaign after national funding runs out."

At a joint news conference on Oct. 1, leaders of Oklahoma's health, social services and law enforcement announced a new tobacco use prevention partnership had formed to advance these initiatives:

  • Increasing the state excise tax on cigarettes by $1.00 per pack to offset costs associated with treating tobacco-caused diseases and to expand effective tobacco use prevention and cessation programs statewide.
  • Requiring smoke-free workplaces and public places to reduce exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke.
  • Providing tougher enforcement of laws and penalties for selling tobacco to minors.
  • And promoting legislation that allows local communities to have tougher tobacco use ordinances than state law.

"According to the 2002 State of the State's Health Report, nicotine addiction is the leading contributor to premature death in Oklahoma. We definitely need to expand Oklahoma's tobacco use prevention and cessation efforts to improve the health status of all Oklahomans," Beitsch said.

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