Smoke-Free Mothers, Smoke-Free Babies (Sen. Tom Harkin)

We all have a responsibility to ensure new mothers know the dangers of smoking and its effects on babies and young children. On Monday, I joined Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) to introduce legislation that will give mothers the help they need to kick the habit. The Smoke-Free Mothers and Babies Act of 2009 helps women on Medicaid stop smoking during pregnancy by providing them with access to comprehensive tobacco cessation services.

This legislation also helps improve the health of our Medicaid budget.  A 1 percent decline in smoking prevalence among pregnant women would prevent 1,300 cases of low birth weight among babies annually and save at least $21 million in direct medical costs. For every $1 spent on smoking cessation for pregnant women, an estimated $3 in neonatal intensive care costs could be avoided. Such expenditures have a disproportionate impact on Medicaid, with estimates indicating that pregnant women on Medicaid are more likely to smoke than pregnant women not on Medicaid. Smoking-attributable neonatal healthcare costs through the Medicaid program total almost $228 million- equal to $700 per pregnant smoker.

At least one out of every ten pregnant women in the United States smokes, which accounts for over 400,000 births per year. Studies have found that smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke among pregnant women is a major cause of miscarriage, stillbirths, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).  This is unacceptable, and we be doing more to reduce the dangers to both mothers and their children that come from smoking during pregnancy.

There are few things more important than working to improve the health of mothers and children while lowering health care costs. I anticipate strong support for the bill and hope that it will quickly move forward in the 111th Congress.