3 June 1998
Effects Of Smoking On The Unborn Vastly Underestimated
In what amounts to a damning indictment of the US medical community, government and media, a pharmacologist from Duke University Medical Centre has warned of the dangers of neglecting "unequivocal" scientific evidence that nicotine from maternal smoking may lead to as many as 100 000 foetal deaths each year. Publishing a detailed review of research findings in the June issue of the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, Theodore Slotkin also asserts that massive numbers of "cigarette babies" are victims of severe neurological problems and cot death.
"Maternal smoking during pregnancy kills between tens of thousands and possibly over a hundred thousand babies each year in utero," he said in an interview. "It also results in tens of thousands of admissions to intensive care units after birth and kills or brain-damages more during the birth process. Smoking is also responsible for one-third to two-thirds of all cases of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome."
Despite the documented damage caused by nicotine, "both the press and the medical community continue to regard tobacco as separate from, and less serious than, illicit drugs of abuse," Slotkin notes in his paper. And unless money is ploughed into research and education on nicotine's effects, the spectre of smoking will eclipse AIDS in the death and societal disruption it causes world-wide.
According to statistics, around 50 per cent of pregnant smokers in the United States report that they have quit, claims Slotkin. Yet blood and urine tests reveal that the actual proportion of women who kick the weed during pregnancy is much smaller. "The sad truth is that most women who smoke don't quit during pregnancy."
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