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Health Risk To "Cigarette Babies" Is Neglected, Duke Scientist Charges

DURHAM, N.C. -- The medical community, government and media have neglected unequivocal scientific evidence that nicotine from maternal smoking causes possibly 100,000 fetal deaths each year as well as massive numbers of crib deaths, according to a Duke University Medical Center pharmacologist.

Also neglected are the severe neurological problems in "cigarette babies" of smoking pregnant women.

This neglect comes despite the fact that the widespread, chronic ingestion of nicotine by one-fourth of all pregnant women probably produces far more damage than the more limited and episodic use of cocaine.

Professor of Pharmacology Theodore Slotkin bases his conclusions on a detailed review of research findings, including his own, published in a paper titled "Fetal Nicotine or Cocaine Exposure: Which One is Worse?" in the June issue of the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics.

Animal studies have revealed that nicotine, and hence smoking during pregnancy, inflicts serious damage on the fetus even at nicotine levels too low to cause the traditionally accepted sign of damage -- low birth weight, said Slotkin.

"Maternal smoking during pregnancy kills between tens of thousands and possibly over a hundred thousand babies each year in utero," he said in an interview. "It also results in tens of thousands of admissions to intensive care units after birth and kills or brain-damages more during the birth process. Smoking is also responsible for one-third to two-thirds of all cases of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

"And none of these figures takes into account the enormous increase in learning disabilities, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder and other behavioral problems that we know are part of the outcome of maternal smoking."

Children and adolescents who take up smoking also may suffer brain damage, said Slotkin, who is now exploring this phenomenon in animal studies.
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Contact: Karyn George
georg016@mc.duke.edu
919-660-1301
Duke University
3-Jun-1998


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