The UK’s health watchdog, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice), has proposed that pregnant women should be breathalysed to ensure that they are not lying about quitting smoking.
The NHS advises all expectant mothers to stop smoking. NHS advice says that stopping smoking will reduce the risk of morning sickness and complications in pregnancy; reduce the risk of stillbirth; cause a simpler birth; reduce the risk of premature birth and the health risks for the baby associated with it; reduce the risk of a baby being born underweight, and reduce the risk of cot death or sudden infant death.
Later in life, the NHS says that the children of smokers are more likely to suffer from a number of illnesses including asthma.
The NHS also warns of the risks of second-hand smoke for pregnant women and new mothers. Children with parents who smoke are more likely to spend time in hospital with pneumonia and bronchitis before they are one-year-old according to the NHS. According to their figures, 17,000 under-fives suffer from second hand smoke-related hospital admissions each year.
Currently, around 20% of women smoke while pregnant and Nice believes tests would lower that number. Midwives have given their backing to the plans – although they say that women must be given full information on the test and be given the option to opt out of it if they wish.
Breath tests can detect smoking because smokers have higher levels of carbon monoxide in their breath. Cigarette smoke contains about 5% carbon monoxide, which is absorbed into the blood before being expelled again through the lungs. Once a smoker stops, the levels of carbon monoxide drop quite quickly – half of the carbon monoxide in breath would be gone within five or six hours and two days after quitting, a smoker’s breath would show the same levels as a non-smoker.
Some parenting groups are opposed to the new tests. They say parents shouldn’t be monitored in this way, and turning midwives into smoking police risks damaging a relationship that must be strong and trusting if pregnant women are to get the advice they need.
Long term decline
The College of Midwives says that the real answer to the problem of smoking in pregnancy is to employ more midwives.
Consultation on Nice’s recommendations is currently being carried out.
Smoking is on the decline in Britain since the debate on the health risks of cigarettes came to an end. The Government is fully committed to reducing the numbers of Britons who smoke – taxes on tobacco rise in every budget, plain packaging for cigarettes was promised.
Alternatives to smoking
Many smokers are finding an alternative to smoking in e-cigarettes – a hobby sometimes called vaping – which were invented in China in 2004 and hit the international market nine years later. E-cigarettes provide a nicotine hit by vaporising fluid rather than burning a leaf – there’s no ash, no unpleasant smoke and no butt to dispose of. You can smoke e-cigarettes in most places which ban tobacco smoking. Last year 700,000 Britons were said to be using these cheap e-liquid machines, this year the number is predicted to top 1million.