Health group opens hot line, begins ad campaign to help pregnant smokers

Tuesday, December 4th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Health advocates began an ad campaign and opened a hot line Tuesday aimed at getting pregnant women to stub out their cigarettes.

About 13 percent of pregnant women admit they smoke, said Cheryl Healton, president and CEO of the American Legacy Foundation. That works out to more than 426,000 women at any given time.

Healton said the real number is probably higher since many women are ashamed to admit to smoking while pregnant.

``Smoking during pregnancy is a major health problem in our nation _ one that is deeply misunderstood and underserved,'' Healton said.

Women who smoke are nearly 70 percent more likely to have low birth weight babies, and maternal smoking has been linked to one in 10 infant deaths.

Beginning Tuesday, the spouses of 16 governors will appear in television ads in their home states urging pregnant women to stop smoking. A national ad will appear in every state and the District of Columbia within two weeks, Healton said.

The ads will tell women to call a 24-hour hot line managed by the American Cancer Society.

``There's never been a national hot line for pregnant smokers,'' Healton said, adding that the callers would receive help from trained counselors.

Tamar Gillan from Long Beach, N.Y., was the first woman to try the counseling program, as part of a test case.

``I can say that I'm making progress, that I'm smoking less and that I'm optimistic that I will eventually quit,'' said Gillan, who is more than five months pregnant.

Her husband works for the New York City Police Department, and while he was unharmed in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Gillan said the stress had impeded her efforts to quit.

Healton said she hoped the program would cut the number of pregnant smokers by half.

Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said states need to get more involved in the fight.

He said 17 state Medicaid programs do not fund smoking cessation programs, even though at least half of the pregnant women who smoke are on Medicaid.

``This program will begin a dialogue, but success will really only be attained if states provide coverage for those who want to quit,'' Myers said.

The Legacy campaign is expected to cost at least $6 million, Healton said. The group is funded through the $206 billion settlement reached by the tobacco companies and 46 states three years ago.

Toll-free hot line: 1-866-667-8278.