Illustration for article titled New Plan Would Test All Pregnant Women For Smoking

Doctors agree that cigarette smoke is harmful to unborn fetuses — but a British plan to test all pregnant women for smoking is going way too far.


According to the Guardian, the UK's National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (somewhat ironically abbreviated NICE) has recommended that all pregnant women be tested for smoking with a carbon monoxide monitor at their very first prenatal care appointment. Since pregnant women are already asked if they smoke, this would basically be an attempt to catch them in a lie, though that's not how NICE sees it. The Telegraph quotes NICE director Mike Kelly:

This isn't to penalise them if they have been smoking, but instead will be a useful way to show women that both smoking and passive smoking can lead to having high levels of carbon monoxide in their systems. It will also alert non-smokers with high carbon monoxide levels to possible CO poisoning, which can be caused by a faulty boiler or car emissions.


But with a system like this, do we really think non-smokers with high CO levels are going to be kindly referred to their local mechanics? More likely they'll simply be accused of smoking — because the entire testing plan is based on the idea that women lie about this. Maybe they do — and as Rebecca Smith of the Telegraph points out, moms who smoke put their fetuses at risk of a variety of health problems. Women should be made aware of these risks, and offered help quitting. But subjecting them to tests to see if they're telling the truth just seems like a way of denying their autonomy and treating them like passive receptacles for society's offspring. What's next, cameras in their homes to make sure they eat green vegetables? Pregnant women deserve help and information, but at some point we have to trust their judgment.

Image via Fesus Robert/

Test Pregnant Women For Smoking, Says Nice [Guardian]
Test All Pregnant Women For Smoking, Says Nice [Telegraph]

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