The general wisdom for writing editorials holds that it’s fruitless to rant against an elected official, group policy or societal trend. It’s all right, though, if the writer suggests alternatives to the subject of the rant.
In this case, we’re stumped. We aren’t even close to a helpful suggestion. Yet the findings from the 2013 Oregon Tobacco Fact Sheet are too disturbing to overlook.
Here they are: One-quarter of pregnant women in Douglas County are smokers, compared with 11 percent statewide. And while the number of smoking, expectant mothers in Oregon has declined by 8 percent since the 1990s, mothers-to-be in our county are lighting up at the same rate as ever.
County health officials are well aware of the gap between the ideal and the reality when dealing with clients in a population pummeled by a poor economy. Natalie Jones, the health department’s maternal program manager, said that while mothers want the best for their babies, it’s hard to kick a nicotine addiction.
Nobody disputes that most people find it tough to quit cigarettes. Sadly, though, we’re not convinced that she’s justified in the first part of her statement.
As Jones also pointed out, tobacco use is a coping method for pregnant women beset by financial and personal hardships. Many women fitting that category didn’t plan to become pregnant. They may not have a clear idea about how they will care for their newborns. Prenatal care isn’t at the top of their priority lists.
This doesn’t apply to all expectant mothers who smoke. Some may be sincere in their desire to stop.
But many are young enough that the dangers of using tobacco are not very real to them. Lung cancer, emphysema and strokes seem distant threats. These women haven’t developed hacking coughs. They don’t gasp for breath after climbing stairs. The short-term pleasures of inhaling are more immediate for them than the risk of low birth weights or premature deliveries.
Health officials faced with such clients may urge them to at least cut back on cigarettes. That seems to be as effective as asking a pregnant woman to keep it to one glass of wine per night. Smoking and pregnancy, like alcohol consumption and pregnancy, just don’t belong together.
We can look on the bright side and say that the county’s teen smoking rates are dropping, which is in fact encouraging. We can urge pregnant women as well as all other smokers to get help by calling 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669), a free counseling service. We can applaud those who have put aside their ashtrays for their babies, their families and themselves. It’s truly worth the sacrifice.
But for that 25 percent of moms who still reach for the packs stamped with the Surgeon General’s warning, there isn’t a lot we can do.
We wish we could think of something.