The nutritional implications of smoking

02:06, Nov 26 2012
TOTAL BAN: If John Murphy were Prime Minister, there would be no smoking at all in outdoor areas.

During pregnancy a smoking mother increases the risk of her baby being born prematurely and of low birth weight. This is because the carbon monoxide in tobacco smoke binds with the haemoglobin (a protein in red blood cells) reducing the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood entering the placenta3.

Premature babies are at greater risk of suffering from growth and mental retardation, cerebral palsy and even death.  Smoking also increases the possibility of complications developing during delivery such as excessive bleeding and fetal distress necessitating a caesarean delivery.

Breast milk deteriorates

When breastfeeding nicotine and cotinine are transferred into the breast milk of a smoking mother within six to seven hours after smoking.

The nutritional effects of this include:

Despite these factors when smoking mothers choose to breast feed they offer their infants more protection against respiratory illness and decrease academic performance compared to bottle feeding.

Early weaning

Studies of smoking mothers have found that they are more likely to wean their babies earlier than non-smokers. This can increase the risk of childhood obesity.


Studies have found that the prevalence of colic was two times higher among infants of smoking mothers, but this was less if those infants were exclusively breastfed.

Effects on bone health

Smoking increases the requirements for vitamin C by 50 per cent. It also deletes iron, B group vitamins and antioxidants. The function of antioxidants is to prevent free radical damage to cells and organs. Nicotine and free radicals affect bone health in the following ways:


Weight control issues

Nicotine increases resting metabolic rate and is an appetite suppressant. It is estimated that smoking may increase energy expenditure by as much as 10 per cent over a day, which equates to around 200 calories. When people give up smoking they often gain weight as their metabolic rate returns to normal and appetite increases. Dietitians can help people who are trying to quit without weight gain.

Second hand smoke and young children

There are at least 250 chemicals in second-hand smoke that are known to cause cancer. The toxins from cigarettes are more highly concentrated in side stream smoke (the smoke released from the burning end of a cigarette) than mainstream smoke (the smoke breathed out from the smoker).

The smaller lungs and lighter weight of young children increases their vulnerability to the harmful effects of second-hand smoke. Breathing in smoke produced by others is known as "passive smoking". In young children this can increase the risk of:

Recommendations to reduce the detrimental effects of smoking on children

Lea Stening is one of New Zealand’s leading paediatric dietitians and has specialised in paediatric nutrition for 31 years. If you want more information about the nutritional impact of smoking contact her.

If you want to quit smoking visit Quitline or ring Quitline on 0800 778 778.

Essential Mums