Cigarette smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in this country, contributing substantially to deaths from cancer, lung disease, heart disease, stroke, and other causes. Smoking rates among women have decreased 35 percent since their peak in 1965. Nonetheless, 22.3 million adult women (or 22.1 percent of this population) were still current smokers in 1997. Unlike their adult counterparts, the rate of smoking among teenage girls has been increasing, rising from 27 percent in 1991 to 37 percent in 1997. In 1997, 70 percent of high school-aged girls had tried cigarette smoking.
Smoking during pregnancy substantially increases health risks to the developing fetus. It is the leading cause of premature births, and it greatly increases the risks of mental retardation, miscarriage, low birth weight, and other serious health conditions in infants. The 1997 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse indicated that 19.9 percent of pregnant women smoked cigarettes, with the highest rates among women in their first trimester of pregnancy and the lowest among those in their third trimester. The smoking rate among women with children under the age of 2 was 26.6 percent. This statistic indicates that some women may abstain from smoking during pregnancy, but resume smoking after their child is born. Children who have been exposed to second-hand cigarette smoke are at increased risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS); recurring ear infections; and severe respiratory illnesses such as bronchitis, pneumonia, and asthma.