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By Janie Har April 12, 2013

Are babies born in Coos County twice as likely to be born to smokers?

Legislation to let counties set additional taxes on tobacco squeaked through the Oregon House last week on a 31-to-29 vote.

Lawmakers opposed to higher taxes said it wasn’t fair to squeeze more revenue out of cigarette addicts. Lawmakers in support said smoking is a public health hazard and that local governments should be allowed to assert local control.

Freshman Rep. Caddy McKeown, D-Coos Bay, said she too struggled with aspects of House Bill 2870, but then reeled off some disturbing statistics courtesy of the Coos County public health department, including this one:

"A baby in Coos County is two times as likely to be born to a mother who is someone who used tobacco during her pregnancy as is the average baby born in Oregon or the U.S.," she said.

Twice as many smokers? What’s up, Coos County? Studies show that prenatal smoking puts babies at greater risk of low birth weight, respiratory illnesses and other potential health problems.

State and county numbers

McKeown’s office shared a 2011-12 annual report on the status of public health in Coos County.

We also checked with Stephen Brown, a tobacco prevention program coordinator at Coos County. Figures from 2011 birthsshow that in Coos County, 23.4 percent of mothers used tobacco while pregnant. Statewide, the figure was 10.7 percent. That’s more than double.

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In real numbers, that means 135 of 577 babies born in Coos County in 2011 were born to smokers. Statewide, 4,795 of 45,136 babies born in 2011 were born to smokers.

Brown says that studies show that people are less likely to smoke the higher their educational attainment. Prenatal tobacco use is greater among women who don’t finish high school than among women who graduate from college. People living in poorer households are more likely to smoke. Coos County lags the state in educational achievement and in per capita income.

Certainly Coos is not the only county to post rates at least twice Oregon’s. Douglas and Josephine counties posted rates at 25 percent, and Lake County was the highest at 26.5 percent. Those are also rural counties similar to Coos in income and education demographics. Multnomah County was at 6.8 percent.

National average

A national average is harder to come by, mainly because not all states use the same "certificate of live birth" forms to collect prenatal information. The Annie E. Casey Foundation calculates a U.S. figure of 9 percent for births in 2010, but the number leaves out about 20 states. Oregon, which was included, was at 11 percent.

Still, the average is backed up by a hefty Oregon Health Authoritydocument, which reports prenatal tobacco use across the country went from 13.6 percent in 1996 to 10.7 percent in 2005. In Oregon, the percentage of women smoking during pregnancy also dropped during that period, from 17.8 percent to 12.4 percent.

The ruling:

We can say with certainty that babies born in Coos County are twice as likely to have mothers who smoked during pregnancy than the average baby in Oregon. That also looks to be the case using older or incomplete national averages. We rate the statement True.


Our Sources

Oregon Legislature, House session, April 4, 2013 (debate starts 40 minutes in for HB 2870)

Oregon Health Authority, "Oregon Tobacco Facts and Laws," January 2011

Oregon Health Authority, "Oregon Vital Statistics Annual Report 2011" (Table 2-15)

Coos County, "Public Health in Our Community, Coos County Public Health," 2011/12

Email from Courtney Flathers, Chief of Staff, Rep. Caddy McKeown, April 9, 2013

Emails from Stephen Brown, Coos County Tobacco Prevention Program Coordinator, April 9-10,  2013

Annie E. Casey Foundation, "Births to mothers who smoked during pregnancy- 2010"

Interview with Laura Speer, associate director for policy reform and data, Annie E. Casey Foundation, April 10, 2013

Email from Jonathan Modie, spokesman, Oregon Public Health Division, April 10, 2013


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