Cambodian moms-to-be chew tobacco for nausea

December 3, 2009 By MARGIE MASON , AP Medical Writer
In this Aug. 29, 2009 photo, a Cambodian woman with chewing tobacco stained teeth looks on as she and other wait to cross the border into Thailand, near Pailin, Cambodia. When morning sickness sends Cambodian women heaving, they often reach for an unlikely source of relief: a wad of chewing tobacco. Many then become hooked on spitting the addictive juice, a worrying tradition that puts both mother and baby at risk for health problems, the World Health Organization said Thursday, Dec. 3, 2009. (AP Photo/David Longstreath)

(AP) -- When pregnant Cambodian women suffer morning sickness, they often reach for an unlikely source of relief: a wad of chewing tobacco.

Many become hooked, and the World Health Organization warned Thursday it is a tradition putting the health of both mothers and babies at risk.

The largest tobacco survey ever conducted in Cambodia found that about half of all women older than 48 regularly chew tobacco, and about one in five rural women first took up the habit during pregnancy, to soothe their prenatal nausea.

The survey conducted by WHO and other researchers found that midwives are the country's biggest users of smokeless tobacco, with 68 percent chewing it. About half of traditional female healers use it as well.

"Chewing tobacco appears to be strongly influenced by beliefs passed on by older relatives," lead author, Dr. Pramil N. Singh from Loma Linda University in California, said in a statement. "The behavior is seen as a rite of passage into womanhood. Further research is needed to find out whether village health workers actively promote its medicinal use."

The tobacco leaves are typically mixed with lime and betel nut, a mild natural stimulant that produces a bright red juice and has been used for centuries across the Asia-Pacific. Cambodian women place the concoction inside their mouths for an extended period, increasing their risk of suffering .

As with pregnant women who smoke, those who chew tobacco also put their babies at risk for problems such as low birth weight, decreased lung function and stillbirth.

"Some women believe that when they chew tobacco, they look better," said Dr. Mom Kong, director of the nonprofit Cambodia Movement for Health. "And some start chewing tobacco when they get pregnant to cope with in the first trimester of pregnancy. Some crave something sour. But some women get addicted while using it during the pregnancy."

As many as three-quarters of all men in some Southeast Asian countries smoke cigarettes, but fewer than 20 percent of the region's women ever pick up the habit. While about half of older women chew tobacco, only about 4 percent of them smoke, compared to nearly half of all men.

The rate of Cambodian women using tobacco increased with age. Similar trends have been observed in Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Taiwan, India, Palau and China.

Dr. Susan Mercado, WHO's tobacco control adviser for the Western-Pacific region, said it's common for women, men and children across the region to chew tobacco with betel nut, especially in the Pacific islands where cigarettes are sometimes unrolled and chewed. However, she was unaware of pregnant women using tobacco to lessen morning sickness symptoms anywhere but Cambodia.

"It's very, very concerning because the impact is not only on the woman but also on the unborn child, and the risk could be quite severe," she said. "Countries need to have very specific programs that target whatever kind of use is prevalent. Just because everyone is saying the big problem is second-hand smoke ... the problem may not be second-hand smoke for , it's actually chewing."

The study, conducted from 2005 to 2006, involved about 14,000 adult Cambodians nationwide. It was published online in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization.

©2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Regular takeaways linked to kids' heart disease and diabetes risk factors

December 14, 2017
Kids who regularly eat take-away meals may be boosting their risk factors for heart disease and diabetes, suggests research published online in the Archives of Disease in Childhood.

Simulation model finds Cure Violence program and targeted policing curb urban violence

December 14, 2017
When communities and police work together to deter urban violence, they can achieve better outcomes with fewer resources than when each works in isolation, a simulation model created by researchers at the UC Davis Violence ...

One in five patients report discrimination in health care

December 14, 2017
Almost one in five older patients with a chronic disease reported experiencing health care discrimination of one type or another in a large national survey that asked about their daily experiences of discrimination between ...

Your pets can't put your aging on 'paws'

December 14, 2017
(HealthDay)—In a finding that's sure to ruffle some fur and feathers, scientists report that having a pet doesn't fend off age-related declines in physical or mental health.

Searching for a link between achy joints and rainy weather in a flood of data, researchers come up dry

December 13, 2017
Rainy weather has long been blamed for achy joints. Unjustly so, according to new research from Harvard Medical School. The analysis, published Dec. 13 in BMJ, found no relationship between rainfall and joint or back pain.

Study links health risks to electromagnetic field exposure

December 13, 2017
A study of real-world exposure to non-ionizing radiation from magnetic fields in pregnant women found a significantly higher rate of miscarriage, providing new evidence regarding their potential health risks. The Kaiser Permanente ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

deatopmg
5 / 5 (1) Dec 03, 2009
These are western ideals applied to poor LDC citizens. Their situation requires that: First we must survive, then we can philosophize.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.