4 in 10 pregnant woman on Oregon Health Plan smoke tobacco

EUGENE, Ore. - Nearly 40 percent of pregnant women enrolled in the Oregon Health Plan in Lane County are smokers.

That puts the babies at risk for health problems - and health plans in danger of avoidable health care costs.

"Smoking during pregnancy and afterwards can worsen the infant's long term risk of asthma, bronchitis, ear infections," explained Dr. Holly Jo L. Hodges, medical director for the Trillium group.

Trillium Community Health Plan of Eugene and a health advisory panel want to cut down that percentage with a new program.

Hodges said smoking is also linked to 5 percent of infant deaths nationally and about 10 percent of pre-term or premature babies.

"I think most women don't want to smoke that are pregnant, but it's an addiction," said Tara Davee, a member of a community advisory council that brainstormed on the problem.

Trillium and the health council want to try something new: a stop-smoking program that includes intervention, medical counseling and gift cards.

It's a combination they say is probably a first in Oregon.

"We found that the incentive program looked like the best shot we had," Davee said.

Trillium is spending $180,000 on this effort, a cost Dr. Hodges said can be recovered quickly if fewer low-weight and pre-term babies wind up in places like the neo-natal intensive care at Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend.  

Hodges adds,

"Women who quit smoking in the first trimester of pregnancy can expect to have the same birth-weights as women who didn't smoke at all during their pregnancy," Hodges said. "That can be huge."

Women in the program - if they quit smoking and stick to it - can earn $200 worth of gift cards. Doctors hope to reach 400 women with the program, which begins July 1.

Davee said if more of her friends kick the habit, it'll be mission accomplished.