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    New R.I. law aims to protect pregnant women from harmful effects of cigarette smoke

    Effective July 1, 2013, law requires tobacco vendors to display new tobacco warning signs at point of sale

    Providence, RI, July 22, 2013 —

    On July 15, 2013 Governor Lincoln Chafee signed a bill into law that would require the display of a new warning sign wherever tobacco products are sold, highlighting the health risks associated with smoking cigarettes.

    The signs will display the health risks associated with smoking during pregnancy - premature birth and low birth weight - along with effects cigarette smoking can have on the general population, including lung disease, cancer and heart disease. The new signage will be posted in conjunction with the currently required point of sale sign, which states that it is illegal to sell tobacco products to minors. 

    The legislation passed with strong support of bill sponsors Senator Juan Pichardo and Representative Eileen Naughton, as well as March of Dimes advocates, who work to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth and infant mortality

    “The March of Dimes has been a dedicated advocate to better inform and protect pregnant women and their babies in Rhode Island.   Passage of this landmark legislation is a fitting tribute to the March of Dimes’ 75th anniversary this year,” said Dr. Julie Johnson, a member of the Rhode Island March of Dimes chapter’s Advocacy and Government Affairs Committee.

    In 2008, there were 1,344 preterm births – babies born more than three weeks early - in Rhode Island.  Although many of the causes leading to premature births remain unknown, smoking has been identified as a significant risk factor. Prematurity is the leading cause of death in the first month of life, accounting for 23% of deaths in these early weeks.  Prematurity is also a major determinant of illness and disability among infants, including developmental delays, chronic respiratory problems, blindness and deafness.  Rhode Island is making progress in reducing its preterm birth rate; the rate has dropped from a peak of 12.6% in 2006 to 10.4% in 2011.  On June 18, 2012, Governor Chafee accepted the March of Dimes Apgar Award for reducing the state’s preterm birth rate by 8% before 2014.

    “While premature births have been decreasing in our state, smoking has been identified as a significant risk factor associated with premature births that we can do something about,” said Rep. Eileen Naughton, District 21, Warwick. “Supporting this legislation was a priority for me.”

    The Surgeon General reported in 2011 that smokers are more likely than non-smokers to have babies who are born premature, experience low birth weight (babies weighing less than 5.5 pounds), are stillborn or die because of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).   Babies of smokers weigh, on average, 200 grams less than nonsmokers’ babies. 

    “I am very pleased to see this legislation become law.  The health of Rhode Island mothers and their babies has always been an important issue for me.” said Sen. Juan Pichardo, District 2, Providence.

    The rising rate of preterm birth is not only a health issue, but also an economic issue.  The average first-year medical costs are 10 times greater for a preterm infant ($32,325) than for a full-term infant ($3,325), according to the Institute of Medicine. 

    In addition to health risks, the new signs will contain information on smoking cessation resources available to help Rhode Islanders quit smoking. Signs will be available through the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals in both English and Spanish. 

     

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