OBJECTIVE: To study pregnant women’s knowledge, attitudes and behaviors towards tobacco use and secondhand smoke (SHS) exposure, and exposure to advertising for and against tobacco products in Zambia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
DESIGN: Prospective cross-sectional survey between November 2004 and September 2005. SETTING: Antenatal care clinics in Lusaka, Zambia, and Kinshasa, DRC. POPULATION: Pregnant women in Zambia (909) and the DRC (847).
METHODS: Research staff administered a structured questionnaire to pregnant women attending antenatal care clinics. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Pregnant women’s use of tobacco, exposure to SHS, knowledge of the harms of tobacco and exposure to advertising for and against tobacco products.
RESULTS: Only about 10% of pregnant women reported ever having tried cigarettes (6.6% Zambia; 14.1% DRC). However, in the DRC, 41.8% of pregnant women had tried other forms of tobacco, primarily snuff. About 10% of pregnant women and young children were frequently or always exposed to SHS. Pregnant women’s knowledge of the hazards of smoking and SHS exposure was extremely limited. About 13% of pregnant women had seen or heard advertising for tobacco products in the last 30 days.
CONCLUSIONS: Tobacco use and SHS exposure pose serious threats to the health of women, infants and children. In many African countries, maternal and infant health outcomes are often poor and will likely worsen if maternal tobacco use increases. Our findings suggest that a ‘window of opportunity’ exists to prevent increased tobacco use and SHS exposure of pregnant women in Zambia and the DRC.