Study: Pregnant Women May Be Lying About Their Smoking Habits

Nicotine levels in urine show that almost twice as many pregnant women are smoking than admit to it.

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Uh-oh. According to a new study, the number of American women who are smoking while pregnant may actually be twice as high as we thought it was.

The news comes via a study done at one Ohio hospital in which pregnant women's self-reported smoking habits were compared to the nicotine levels in their urine during their last trimester. The findings? While less than 9 percent of the women had admitted to smoking while pregnant, high levels of markers for tobacco found in their urine suggested that 16.5 percent actually had been smoking. Meanwhile, an additional 7.5 percent had levels of low nicotine exposure, suggesting exposure to secondhand smoke.

"We have long suspected that smoking status during pregnancy is under-reported," said the study’s senior author Jim Greenberg, M.D. of the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center in a press release. "But now we know just how many women struggle to quit smoking when they are pregnant."

The researchers noted that smoking while pregnant boosts the risk for premature birth by as much as 25 percent and is also considered to be a risk factor for both sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and birth defects. And Dr. Greenberg says the findings point to an increased need for public health efforts to decrease tobacco and e-cigarette use in pregnant women, particularly those of ethnic minorities (about 8 percent of black women in the study group admitted to smoking cigarettes but urine tests suggested that 21 percent were smokers).

"The public health community has long assumed that targeted campaigns toward minority women are not needed because we've relied on self-reported data," Dr. Greenberg explained. "This new information suggests that that approach is profoundly incorrect and that new support needs to be offered to a population that's too often been ignored when it comes to anti-smoking efforts."

Hollee Actman Becker is a freelance writer, blogger, and a mom. Check out her website for more, and then follow her on Twitter at @holleewoodworld.