This is an archived article. For the latest news, go to the Advance Homepage
For more archives, go to the Advance Archive/Search Page.


  October 20, 2003

Research Team To Conduct
National Study Of Pregnant Smokers

A team of researchers, headed by Health Center professor Dr. Cheryl Oncken, has won a federal grant to conduct a study that may help pregnant women who want to quit smoking improve their chances of success.

The five-year, $1.6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health is the first national, large-scale research study of its kind.

Pregnant women who quit smoking improve their chances of having a healthy baby and avoiding serious pregnancy problems, says Oncken, an associate professor of medicine and of obstetrics and gynecology at the Health Center, who is principal investigator on the grant.

National statistics indicate that approximately 20 percent of pregnant women smoke. Research has shown that smoking during pregnancy is one of the most important modifiable causes of poor pregnancy outcomes in the United States; yet nicotine is one of the most powerful addictive substances and quitting smoking is extremely difficult.

"Our goal is to learn whether alleviating tobacco withdrawal symptoms with nicotine gum can help pregnant women quit smoking and improve birth outcomes," says Oncken. "We know there are risks involved with nicotine gum and patches, but compared to the chemicals inhaled and the potential reduction of oxygen to the fetus, those risks are significantly lower."

Despite the risks, the majority of pregnant smokers are unable to quit with behavioral interventions alone. "Quitting early in pregnancy is best, but quitting at any stage of pregnancy has health benefits for both mother and child," says Oncken. "By combining nicotine replacement and counseling, we're hoping for better results for these women."

Dr. John Greene, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Health Center and assistant director of women's health at Hartford Hospital, a collaborator on the study, says he sees the consequences of smoking first hand. "The risks of miscarriage, low birth weight, premature delivery, and sudden infant death syndrome would be lowered dramatically if pregnant women quit smoking," he says.

Also collaborating on the study is psychologist Ellen Dornelas, director of the Behavioral Health Program, Preventive Cardiology, at Hartford Hospital, and assistant professor of medicine at the UConn Health Center.

Those eligible to participate in the study are pregnant women at least 16 years of age, who smoke a minimum of five cigarettes a day. Participants receive free medication, incentives, financial compensation, and free smoking cessation counseling with a professional therapist. After an initial screening visit, participants will be seen six more times and once after delivery. The visits will be at Hartford Hospital's Women's Ambulatory