Women in Okaloosa County who continue to smoke after becoming pregnant is nearly twice the state average of 7.4 percent among white women and almost four times the 3.6 percent of black women in Florida.

By Tom McLaughlin | 315-4435 | @TomMnwfdn | tmclaughlin@nwfdailynews.com

Health experts believe Northwest Florida’s infant mortality numbers might be reduced significantly if young women could somehow be convinced to quit smoking.

“Okaloosa has a smoking problem, but more dramatically, Okaloosa has a smoking problem within the birth-giving age,” said Dr. Karen Chapman, director of the Okaloosa County branch of the Florida Department of Heath.

Numbers gathered by the Health Department between 2013 and 2015 indicate 13.1 percent of women in the county continue to smoke after becoming pregnant. That’s nearly twice the state average of 7.4 percent among white women and almost four times the 3.6 percent of black women in Florida.

And the high rate of pregnant smokers isn’t just an Okaloosa County issue.

The Florida Department of Health launched its Florida’s Healthy Babies initiative two years ago with the intention of reducing infant mortality rates statewide. It requested county departments develop strategies to assist the state in meeting overall goals.

A Community Action Committee set up to target Okaloosa County’s tobacco use has established goals it wants to achieve by Dec. 31, 2017. Those include:

• Decrease tobacco use among pregnant women by 1 percent by raising awareness regarding tobacco dangers and cessation resources while forming partnerships with service providers who work with pregnant women.

• Advocating for youth tobacco cessation programs for Okaloosa middle and high school students and decrease use of tobacco products for children between the ages of 11-17 by 2 percent.

• Increase the number of “quit attempts” by Okaloosa County residents by 5 percent by identifying and increasing awareness of tobacco cessation programs, particularly in at-risk communities.

“It’s not just us, it’s the whole Panhandle,” said Ardelle Bush, director of the Healthy Start Coalition of Okaloosa and Walton…

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Mayra Rodriguez

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