Douglas County women are twice as likely to smoke while pregnant as are expectant mothers statewide, according to a recent report by the Oregon Health Authority.
The 2013 Oregon Tobacco Fact Sheet reports that one-quarter of pregnant women smoke in Douglas County, compared to 11 percent statewide.
Douglas County Health Department’s maternal program manager, Natalie Jones, said mothers want the best for their babies, but nicotine addiction is hard to break, especially for pregnant women facing financial and personal hardships.
“Tobacco use is a way they’ve found to cope with life stresses,” Jones said.
Since the early 1990s, smoking among pregnant women has declined from 19 percent to 11 percent in Oregon, a trend defied in Douglas County, where smoking rates among expectant mothers have remained steady.
Smoking during pregnancy causes premature births, birth defects and infant deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Health department officials who see expectant mothers say they encourage pregnant women to at least smoke fewer cigarettes.
“I don’t think the statistics capture those who cut back,” Jones said.
Among all adults, Douglas County’s smoking rate of 27 percent is the third highest among Oregon’s 36 counties, tied with Lincoln County. Only Curry and Coos counties have a higher percentage of adults who smoke. Statewide, 16 percent of adults smoke.
Rates are based on surveys conducted from 2008 to 2011.
According to the report, Douglas County’s adult smoking rates were between 22 and 24 percent during the 1990s, reached a high of 30 percent in 2000-01 and has dropped slightly to the current 27 percent rate.
In the early 1990s, the county’s rates were similar to the state average, but while smoking has declined statewide, Douglas County’s smoking rate is higher now than it was then. Statewide, adult smoking rates were at 22 percent in the early 1990s.
More encouragingly, Douglas County’s teenage smoking rates are in line with statewide rates, which have been dropping since 1996, when 28 percent of Oregon’s 11th-graders smoked. The percentage has dropped to 12 percent, the same rate as in Douglas County.
Among eighth-graders, 8 percent in Douglas County reported smoking, compared to 6 percent statewide. In 1996, 22 percent of the state’s eighth-graders reported smoking. Historical rates among teens for individual counties were not in the report.
Smoking rates among 11th-graders and eighth-graders were based on a 2012 survey.
Since most tobacco use begins in childhood, declining rates among teens could mean less smoke in Douglas County’s future.
Douglas County Health Department spokeswoman Marilyn Carter said smoking rates tend to be higher in rural counties for many reasons, including poverty and cultural acceptance of smoking.
“I think there’s no one thing. It’s a variety of things. It’s income, it’s insurance status, it’s where we live and how tobacco use is viewed in our community. Sometimes it’s a rite of passage,” Carter said. “The one piece of good news in there is it looks like youth tobacco use is down.”
Carter said county public health officials are trying to reduce smoking. Public health nurses ask pregnant women if they smoke and make referrals to the Oregon Tobacco Quit Line. She also said the smoking ban in Roseburg city parks and the creation of designated smoking areas in Winston city parks are steps in the right direction.
Carter said the Oregon Tobacco Quit Line is one of the best resources for smokers who want to quit. Thirty-six Douglas County residents called the free telephone counseling service in May, the last month for which statistics were compiled, and 218 called in the past year. The Quit Line is open seven days a week 4 a.m. to midnight and can be reached at 1-800-QUIT-NOW or 1-800-784-8669.
• You can reach reporter Carisa Cegavske at 541-957-4213 or firstname.lastname@example.org.