New data indicates that more women may be smoking and exposed to nicotine during pregnancy than previously thought.

The study reveals a significant gap between the number of local, pregnant mothers who report smoking during pregnancy and the number who test positive for nicotine exposure.

“This is extremely important new information for us as we work to better understand risk factors for preterm birth,” said Jim Greenberg, MD, director of the Perinatal Institute at Cincinnati Children’s and senior author of the study. “We have long suspected that smoking status during pregnancy is under-reported, but now we know just how many women struggle to quit smoking when they are pregnant.”

The study, published online in the Journal of Perinatology, detected high-level nicotine exposure for 16.5 percent of women in the study and low-level exposure for an additional 7.5 percent. Only 8.6 percent, however, admitted to using cigarettes. The study suggests that tools researchers use to estimate nicotine use do not accurately capture all means of nicotine exposure, including e-cigarettes.

“Studies show that smoking increases the risk of preterm birth by over 25 percent,” said Todd Portune, Hamilton County Commissioner and chair of Cradle Cincinnati. ‘It is also a proven risk factor for SIDS and for birth defects. All three of the leading causes of infant death are negatively affected by tobacco use. To learn the true size of the battle we are fighting is an important first step.”

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