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Smoking increases risk of infant deaths, birth defects

By Mwangi Mumero
Monday, April 19th, 2021
Birth defects.
In summary

Smoking among pregnant women increases the risk of birth defects, stillbirths, preterm births and infant deaths.

Exposure of the unborn children to maternal smoking or secondary smoke doubles the risk of sudden infant deaths and birth defects, according to a new study by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Still, smoking increases the risk of stillbirths and congenital malformation by 23 per cent and 13 per cent respectively.

Titled, Tobacco control to improve child health and development, the WHO report calls for raising awareness among practitioners and policymakers about the importance of strong tobacco control measures for protecting the health and development of children.

Some measures include banning tobacco advertising, implementing 100 per cent smoke-free environments and raising taxes on tobacco.

According to Euromonitor International, a market research firm, Kenya had three million smokers by 2017.

Of these, 1.3 million were women. At least 6.7 per cent of the 13–15 year olds who smoked were women, highlighting dangers these prospective mothers were getting themselves into.

The WHO study also says second-hand smoke kills around 1.2 million people every year and 65,000 of these premature and preventable deaths are children and adolescents under 15 years.

Children with caregivers who smoke are almost 70 per cent more likely to try smoking by the age of 15.

“Exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke affects children’s survival, health, and development before and after birth,” said Dr Bernadette Daelmans, Unit Head, Child Health and Development at the WHO Department of Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health and Ageing.

Dr Daelmans adds that there is no safe level of exposure to tobacco smoke. It seriously harms the health of a child, and may drive a child to later engage in tobacco use, which will increase risk of serious health harms throughout life.

Research has established that second hand smoke during pregnancy is particularly relevant to many low- and middle-income countries -where few women smoke but their men do.

Equally, the report says, children living with smokers are at a greater risk for bronchitis, pneumonia and other respiratory infections.

They are also more likely to acquire and be hospitalised for asthma and develop middle ear disease. They have an increased chance of dying before their fifth birthday.

The report highlights that children exposed to tobacco smoke in early life also more often experience behavioural problems and do less well in school.

It goes on to state that children who experiment with smoking earlier are more likely to go on to become smokers as adults, thus putting them at increased risk of premature death and disease later in life.