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New incentives help pregnant women stop smoking

Mary Pickels
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Pregnancy can be a strong incentive to stop smoking.
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Getty Images
In this photo illustration, a pregnant woman is seen holding a cigarette. “Healthy Choices, Healthy Children: Smoke Free Moms” is a new program emphasizing both support and financial rewards for trying to quit.
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Tribune-Review file
Jordan Patton, of Beltzhoover kisses her 8-month-old son Jamil Patton in this 2010 photo. Patton decided she needed to quit smoking after she learned she was pregnant. Her story was featured in a documentary film produced by the state Department of Health documenting the ups and downs and the struggles of quitting smoking.

Pregnancy can be a strong incentive to stop smoking.

Very few women are likely unaware of the dangers of smoking while pregnant and the potential harm to their developing babies.

Along with obstetricians and pediatricians, organizations including the American Lung Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warn about nicotine. Its use is associated with issues ranging from birth defects to premature delivery to asthma or ear infections in infants.

Two area agencies take the incentive a step further, offering pregnant women the opportunity to earn some cash as they work to break their habit.

“Healthy Choices, Healthy Children: Smoke Free Moms” is a new program emphasizing both support and financial rewards for women trying to quit.

The new campaign, managed by Tobacco Free Southwest, a program of Adagio Health, is in addition to an existing program offered through the PA Free Quitline, a state Department of Health agency.

The Quitline program offers women who register for the free coaching program to qualify for up to $65, $5 per telephone coaching session.

While supplies last, Tobacco Free Southwest is offering an additional incentive, $50 gift cards, to pregnant women who complete the smoking cessation program.

The program is available in 10 Southwestern Pennsylvania counties, including Allegheny, Beaver, Westmoreland, Fayette, Somerset and Washington.

Vickie Oles is coordinator of the Penn State Cooperative Extension’s Prevention/Cessation Program in Westmoreland County.

“Any phone call (expectant smoking moms) take for coaching, they can receive a $5 gift card from the Department of Health,” she says. The program tries to assign one coach to each woman to help build a relationship with the mom-to-be, Oles says.

“We partner with (Women, Infants and Children) and encourage staff to share this information,” Oles says.

“When we do get the referrals at Penn State, we find that pregnant women are smoking fewer cigarettes. But taking that last step and giving up (altogether) is difficult,” she says.

“The healthier moms can be during pregnancy, the healthier kids can be, the less stress, the less need to smoke,” Oles adds.

The triggers

Just like with any smoker, pregnant women have both a physical addiction to nicotine and to the habit of smoking, she says.

Coaching can help them find what triggers the urge to smoke or vape.

“What time is it? What’s happening? Are they stressed? Are they bored? Is (smoking) a reward? ” Oles says.

Coaching can help smokers discover hobbies and distractions to distance themselves from cigarettes, she says.

Encouraging awareness, cessation

“There has been a lot of research with regard to the impact of smoking during pregnancy, and it’s pretty overwhelming the amount of harm that it actually can cause,” says Dr. Judy Chang, researcher and obstetrician-gynecologist at UPMC Magee Womens Hospital.

Quitting at any point during pregnancy can benefit mom and baby, she says.

“Ideally, of course, the earlier the better in terms of quitting smoking, because then you’re going to avoid some of the developmental components. But even during the second trimester and third trimester, what we have seen is that also is associated with reduction in some of the risks,” Chang says.

“What we found as we researched this project with partners like (Chang) is that when a woman is in a vulnerable state and is dealing with a stigmatized addiction, like smoking — approaching her from a place of compassion, with no judgment, may help encourage her to take needed steps toward better health,” says B.J. Leber, Adagio Health president and CEO.

“We want to help local moms make healthier choices, like becoming smoke-free — and we want them to know there is a kind voice on the other end of the PA Free Quitline, ready to provide support and counseling. At the same time, she’ll receive financial rewards that may also help her quit,” Leber adds.

Get a coach

The coaching option has been “very under utilized,” says Kathryn Hartman, Tobacco Free Southwest tobacco control program manager.

“That is why we are pushing it a bit more and adding more financial incentive,” she says.

The coaching program can continue after delivery, Hartman says, with the understanding that smokers can relapse.

Women are also reminded that nicotine sticks to one’s fingers, even after washing one’s hands, and smoke can linger on clothes and be inhaled by infants, Hartman adds.

The additional $50 gift card, she says, is for women to spend as they choose, perhaps on baby items or something for themselves.

“We are not against rewarding yourself,” she says.

Mary Pickels is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Mary at 724-836-5401, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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