Tobacco, pregnancy, and the costs of cigarettes

Author: Merrilee Gober, RN, BSN, JD

Pregnant women who smoke increase the risk of poor birth outcomes for themselves and their babies. These risks include placental abruptions, low birthweight babies, small for gestational age babies, oral clefts, and certain heart defects.1

Georgia birth certificates show that about 6% of mothers smoke during pregnancy. However, due to the stigma associated with smoking during pregnancy, one study has found that many women falsely deny that they smoke.   Research from Ohio found that only about half of the smoking mothers in their study truthfully reported their smoking status on their infants’ birth certificates; 8.6% of mothers reported smoking in the third trimester of pregnancy on their baby’s birth certificate, but 16.5% had high levels of nicotine in their urine.2 Thus, it is likely that the number of Georgia women who smoke during pregnancy is in reality higher than birth certificate data shows.

Maternal smoking has also been associated with adverse health outcomes for the baby even after birth, including sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). In 2014, 33% of Georgia babies who died of SIDS or other sleep-related causes had mothers who acknowledged smoking on their infant’s birth certificate.3

Most of our smoking mothers picked up the habit in their youth, as research shows that 90% of smokers began smoking as a teen.4.

An effective way to curb teen usage is through a higher price for tobacco products. When the cost of cigarettes increase, the demand for cigarettes decreases, particularly among teens.5

One of the primary ways to increase the price of cigarettes is through taxes. Nationally, the average state tax on a single pack of cigarettes is $1.69. Georgia has only a $0.37 tax on a single pack of cigarettes, less than all states except Virginia and Missouri. Furthermore, Georgia has not increased its tobacco tax in over 10 years.6 Raising the tobacco tax in Georgia would deter teens from ever picking up their first cigarette and could even reduce demand among adults, ultimately reducing the number of babies born to smokers, giving them and their mothers healthier lives.