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British Health Officials: Test Pregnant Women for Smoking

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Ronda Kaysen: Imagine going to your prenatal visit and getting a Breathalyzer test to find out if you smoke or spend a lot of time around smokers. That's just what a British health agency is proposing.

They'd like to test all pregnant moms to find out if they smoke or are around too much carbon monoxide. Moms with high levels of CO2 will be offered smoking-cessation information and guidance to help them kick the habit. Proponents of the measure say it'll protect babies; kids of smokers have lower birth weights and higher rates of asthma and other respiratory ailments.

"This isn't to penalize [mothers] if they have been smoking, but instead will be a useful way to show women that both smoking and passive smoking can lead to having high levels of carbon monoxide in their systems," Professor Mike Kelly, director of the Centre for Public Health Excellence at the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, told the Telegraph.

The proposal hasn't been implemented yet, but British health officials are bracing themselves for an onslaught of criticism from moms who will likely say, "Back off!"

Moms get poked and prodded enough when they're pregnant; isn't their word good enough when they say they don't smoke? A test like this implies that doctors don't trust the information their patients are telling them -- and also invades their privacy. After all, it's not against the law to smoke while pregnant, despite the serious health risks to both mom and baby.

However, anything that could reduce premature births and asthma and give children a healthier start in life is certainly something worth considering.

"The sooner women who are pregnant can give up smoking, the better," Jane Brewin, chief executive of the baby charity Tommy's, told the Telegraph. "Every baby deserves the best start in life, and those born to smokers tend be smaller and weaker than other infants. However, it's important that pregnant women feel supported if they make the decision to quit, and are aware of the stop-smoking services available to them."

Officials say the test will serve another purpose, too: It'll alert unsuspecting nonsmoking moms to the possibility that they've been exposed to CO2 poisoning via car emissions or a faulty boiler.

Moms, weigh in: Should pregnant women be tested for smoking? Or should they be left alone?


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