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Baltimore aims to stop smoking around pregnant women and babies

In the continued effort to reduce infant mortality in Baltimore, health officials and the Family League of Baltimore City have launched an effort to reduce secondhand smoke near babies and pregnant women.

The campaign, called "Just Hold Off," is the second phase of the B'more for Healthy Babies program. The first phase, launched in August 2010, focused on safe sleep: Babies should sleep alone, on their backs in a crib.

Officials are urging smokers to back away from pregnant women and babies in the home, vehicles, bus shelters and elsewhere. Health officials point to studies that show a link between fetal exposure to smoke and premature and underweight babies, as well as increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome. An analysis of Baltimore's infant mortality data showed babies exposed to smoke at home were more likely to die of a sleep-related death.

"With 'Just Hold Off,' we want to drill home the message in Baltimore that smoking around babies and pregnant women is unacceptable, be it in public, in cars and in the home," said Dr. Oxiris Barbot, Baltimore's health commissioner, in a statement. "We also encourage women who smoke to 'Just Speak Up' to their medical providers and ask for help quitting tobacco use."

The campaign will employ advertisements around the city.

Baltimore City, Prince George's County and two rural Eastern Shore counties, Dorchester and Somerset, have the highest rates of infant death in the state, ranging from 9.1 to 16.5 deaths per 1,000 births on average between 2005 and 2009.

But officials say the numbers are dropping in Baltimore, where there were 40 percent fewer sleep-related deaths in 2010 than in 2009.

"This campaign is working hard to educate pregnant women, new mothers and fathers about how to safely take care of their babies," said Kevin Keegan, chief executive of the Family League of Baltimore City Inc., which co-administers B'more for Healthy Babies with the health department. "We are making great progress but will do everything we can to help Baltimore families create healthy environments for our newborns."

meredith.cohn@baltsun.com

twitter.com/baltsunhealth

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