A recent study found that usually when pregnant Cambodian women suffer morning nausea, they often search for a source of ease by starting to chew tobacco.
Unfortunately many of them become addicted, and the World Health Organization warned that for these women to put their and their babies health at risk became a tradition.
Researchers reported that in general 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, in order to soothe their prenatal nausea.
But the biggest users of smokeless tobacco from this country are midwives (68 percent chewing it). And about half of traditional female healers use it as well.
Dr. Pramil N. Singh from Loma Linda University in California said: “Chewing tobacco appears to be strongly influenced by beliefs passed on by older relatives. The movement is seen as a ceremony of passage into womanhood. Moreover research is needed to find out if village health workers actively promote its medicinal use.”
The smokeless tobacco used in Cambodia is typically mixed with lime and betel nut, a mild natural stimulant that generates a bright red juice and has been used for centuries across the Asia-Pacific. Then Cambodian women place the composition inside their mouths for a wider period of time, increasing their risk of suffering oral cancer.
As for 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.
Dr. Mom Kong, director of the nonprofit Cambodia Movement for Health said: “Some women think that when they chew tobacco, they look and feel better. And some start chewing tobacco when they get pregnant to cope with morning sickness in the first trimester of pregnancy. Some crave something sour. But some women get addicted while using it during the pregnancy.”
Statistics show that 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 Cambodian women chew tobacco, only about 4 percent of them smoke, compared to nearly half of all men in the country.
Scientists explained that the rate of Cambodian women using tobacco increased with age. Similar trends have been observed in Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Taiwan, India, Palau and China.
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