Dhaka,  Saturday
25 May 2024

Secondhand Smoke: A silent threat to pregnancy

DR. A H M. Nurul Hakim 

Published: 10:09, 15 May 2024

Secondhand Smoke: A silent threat to pregnancy

Photo: Messenger

We all cherish the freedom to make our own health choices, but sometimes those decisions aren't solely ours to make. Quite often, this is the harsh reality for pregnant women as they get exposed to passive smoking. In our society, smoking in front of a pregnant mother is taken as normal phenomenon, ignoring the health harm it does to the mother and the upcoming child.

Tobacco use has devastating health effects on both users and non-users. Secondhand smoke increases the risk of communicable and non-communicable diseases, impacting vulnerable groups such as children, women, and upcoming children. According to the WHO Tobacco Atlas, the annual deaths caused by tobacco-related illnesses exceed 1 lakh 61 thousand in Bangladesh. On a daily basis, approximately 442 people die due to tobacco-related causes. According to the Global Adult Tobacco Survey 2017, approximately 37.8 million adults in Bangladesh, accounting for 35.3 percent of the population aged 15 and above, use tobacco. Among them, 18% are smokers (1.92 crore) and 21% are smokeless tobacco users like Jorda, Gul, White leave (2.2 crore). Furthermore, around 3 crore 84 lakh people are exposed to secondhand smoke, especially in the public transport.

Passive smoking, or secondhand smoke, means when you breathe in the smoke from someone else's cigarette. It is inhalation of tobacco smoke by an individual other than the active smoker. For pregnant women, this can lead to serious health problems for both the mother and her baby in the womb. Pregnant mothers exposed to secondhand smoking are more likely to experience risks to low fetal growth, premature birth, birth defects and even stillbirth.  It also leads to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

Sadly, numerous pregnant women find it impossible to save them from secondhand smoke exposure, whether they're at home, at work, or in public areas. They're exposed to risks they never chose for themselves. Concerning this issue, complete ban on smoking in all public places, workplaces, and public transport is a pressing necessity to safeguard non-smokers, particularly pregnant women and children, from the hazards of secondhand smoke exposure. By educating the public about these risks and advocating for stricter tobacco control measures, we can work towards creating a safer and healthier environment for pregnant women and their children, ultimately contributing to the realisation of a tobacco-free, healthy future.

The Ministry of Health has put forward six of proposed amendments to the Tobacco Control Act aimed at bolstering its effectiveness and reach. These amendments encompass a wide range of measures, including a complete ban on smoking in all public spaces, workplaces, and public transport.

Recognising the imperative to safeguard the health of pregnant women, children, and non-smokers, the Ministry of Health and Family Planning in Bangladesh has embarked on bolstering the Tobacco Control Act (Smoking and Use of Tobacco Products (Control) Act 2005) to address its deficiencies. These deficiencies include inadequate enforcement mechanisms, insufficient penalties, limited scope of regulation concerning emerging tobacco products, weaknesses in advertising regulations, inadequate support for anti-tobacco programs, and challenges in local implementation. By resolving these shortcomings through legislative amendments and policy reforms, the Ministry aims to fortify the Act's effectiveness in fostering tobacco-free environments, aligning with the Prime Minister's vision . The Ministry wants to make sure everyone can live in places free from smoke, supporting the Prime Minister's goal of a tobacco-free country by 2040.

As a healthcare professional dedicated to the well-being of our community, I strongly advocate for the urgent implementation of comprehensive tobacco control measures, including the immediate ban of all designated public smoking areas. It is imperative that we prioritise the health and safety of pregnant women, children, and the non-smokers by creating smoke-free environments where they can live, grow, and prosper in a healthy and supportive environment without being negatively impacted by exposure to smoke or tobacco.

The writer is MBBS, MPH (MCH), Managing Director, New Deep Clinic & Diagnostic Centre.