Ben Chandler, Chair, Coalition for a Smoke-Free Tomorrow
and President/CEO, Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky
January 23, 2018
Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. In Kentucky, smoking leads to 8,900 deaths every year. Many of those who suffer the illnesses associated with smoking – and ultimately die because of them – have made the personal choice to smoke. Or, at least they made that choice when they first started smoking. Once addicted, however, the choice to quit is dramatically more difficult.
But babies whose moms are addicted to cigarettes do not have that choice.
This morning, you are going to meet a woman who recognized that the health of her baby comes first. When she found out she was pregnant, she was able to quit.
She quit for her baby’s health. She quit because she recognized that, as difficult as it is to overcome an addiction to nicotine, smoking is terribly damaging to our own health … but also to the health of those we live with, work with, and carry with us, either in our hearts or in our very bodies.
January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month, an opportune time to remind everyone that smoking during pregnancy can cause miscarriage, premature birth, a variety of birth defects, and even infant death. Research tells us that fetal mortality rates are 35 percent higher among pregnant women who smoke than among nonsmokers.
Yet Kentucky has the highest rate of smoking during pregnancy in the nation! More than 1 in five Kentucky women who are expecting smoke cigarettes at some time during their pregnancy. In 35 Kentucky counties, the rate is higher than 30 percent. And in four counties – Clay, Jackson, Lee and Owsley – it exceeds 41 percent.
The Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky and other partners in the Coalition for a Smoke-Free Tomorrow understand that the most effective tool for reducing smoking among pregnant women is a significant tax increase – $1 or more per pack – that will raise the price of cigarettes.
Raising the state excise tax on cigarettes will mean nearly 6,000 fewer smoking-affected pregnancies and births over the next five years in the Commonwealth. Think of that … more than a thousand Kentucky babies every year who are healthier because they were not exposed to the toxins in cigarettes while they grew and developed in the womb.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, the direct medical costs of a complicated birth are 66 percent higher for smokers than for nonsmokers. And first year medical costs – including both inpatient and outpatient care – are 10 times greater for preterm newborns ($32,325) than for newborns born on or near their due dates ($3,325).
So this is also a state budget issue. That’s because women who smoke during pregnancy are more likely to be low-income and face other disadvantages. And that means they’re more likely to be on Medicaid. In fact, pregnant women on Medicaid are 2.5 times more likely to smoke than pregnant women not on Medicaid.
Kentucky has the 43rd lowest tobacco tax in the nation. The national average is $1.72, but it’s just 60 cents here. That’s a big part of the reason that our smoking rates are the highest in the nation.
So we urge legislators and the Governor to protect these youngest Kentuckians by adding $1 to each pack of cigarettes sold in the Commonwealth.
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Bonnie J. Hackbarth