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Group seeks support to reduce smoking among pregnant women


By Colleen Quinn


STATE HOUSE — With 1 of out of 10 women smoking during pregnancy in the United States, the March of Dimes plans to launch a smoking cessation campaign next year, and is looking for lawmakers’ support.

Approximately 5 to 8 percent of all pre-term births are related to smoking, and 13 to 19 percent of low birth-weight babies can be attributed to cigarette usage during pregnancy, according to Dr. Joseph Mitchell, a March of Dimes board member who spoke to newly-elected lawmakers Tuesday at the State House about the organization’s priorities.

Smoking during pregnancy “continues to be an epidemic,” Mitchell told the handful of lawmakers who are scheduled to be sworn in on Jan. 7. “I find it incredible.”

Last December, anti-tobacco advocates were critical of state spending levels for anti-smoking efforts, citing funds steered toward other programs from a major tobacco settlement and tobacco taxes.

In 2013, Massachusetts spent 4.4 percent of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-recommended $90 million on anti-tobacco programs, ranking behind 34 other states and the District of Columbia.

March of Dimes officials hope lawmakers will back their efforts to increase awareness around smoking-related birth problems, which can be linked to 23 to 34 percent of all Sudden Infant Death Syndrome cases, according to Mitchell.

The March of Dimes, which was founded 75 years ago to help prevent birth defects and wipe out polio, briefs new lawmakers biennially to make them aware of their mission and legislative priorities, said Ed Doherty, New England chapter director of the March of Dimes.

If a woman stops smoking during her first trimester of pregnancy, the incidence rate of a premature birth drops to the same level as if she had not smoked, according to Doherty.

During an average week in Massachusetts 141 babies are born prematurely and 105 are born with low birth weights. Each week approximately six babies in the state die before their first birthday, according to the March of Dimes. Babies born even a few weeks early are at risk for medical problems and developmental delays.

The event was hosted by Rep. Patricia Haddad, a Democrat from Somerset, who described the organization as “non-partisan” and said its mission is one that lawmakers can easily support.

March of Dimes officials did not provide any specific legislative proposals, but talked about their priorities, which include prevention, monitoring and treatment of substance abuse during pregnancy, newborn hearing screenings, birth defect screenings, access to post partum depression treatment and funding for the Women, Infant and Children’s nutrition program.

“It is one of those organizations that do not ask for anything, but they give so much,” Haddad said during the briefing.