NKU alumni returns to speak on the dangers of nicotine in prenatal development

A University of Kentucky professor shared his research with students on the dangers of nicotine exposure during prenatal development in a lecture held in the Digitorium on Oct. 16.

During his lecture, entitled “Reasons to Quit: Nicotine Replacement Therapy in Pregnancy,” James Pauly, Ph.D., described the dangers of a fetus being exposed to nicotine. Pauly also described why doctors shouldn’t use nicotine replacement therapy as a form of tobacco cessation in pregnant mothers.

“Tobacco smoking is bad. It does things acutely and long term in infant development,” Pauly said.

Nicotine exposure can cause infertility in women as well as an increased chance for ectopic pregnancy, according to Pauly. Ectopic pregnancy is pregnancy that occurs outside of the uterus. This type of pregnancy can result in life threatening blood loss if left untreated, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Other problems outlined by Pauly included higher frequency miscarriage, premature delivery and low birth weight.

Adolescent problems from prenatal exposure to nicotine were also outlined by Pauly. He said that the exposure can lead to physiological problems as well as behavioral problems. Physical problems include the development of asthma and allergies.

Males are more likely to develop ADHD after being exposed to nicotine during prenatal development, Pauly said. He also mentioned that an infant exposed to nicotine is two times more likely to commit a felony as an adult.

 “You can’t ignore the evidence that nicotine is a major factor in some of these development problems associated with tobacco smoking,” Pauly said.

Pauly said that only one in five women quit smoking during pregnancy.

In addition, the use of tobacco by pregnant mothers is common in the state of Kentucky, according to Pauly. He said that in Robertson County, Ky., about 40 miles northeast of Lexington, 53.1 percent of women smoked during pregnancy.

“Probably Kentucky is the state that has the highest prevalence of this type of behavior,” he said.

Pauly said England is another country who has had problems with mothers using nicotine products during pregnancy. He said that pregnant women in England were purposefully using nicotine products in order to have small children. These mothers believed that it would allow them to have an easier birthing.

Pauly performed experiments on mice by giving the mothers liquid nicotine. He said the exposure to nicotine caused the behavior of the newborn mice to change. He also said the nicotine exposure was making the mothers cannibalize the newborn mice. Pauly went in depth on the effects of nicotine exposure on the brain.

Corrine Cooper, sophomore psychology major said she enjoyed learning about nicotine effects on the brain.

“I really love the brain,” Cooper said.

His lecture also covered some safe ways for pregnant mothers to quit smoking. Pauly said partial agonists, a class of drugs, can be used as a safe method of tobacco cessation in pregnant mothers. An example of a drug in this class is Chantix; a drug manufactured by Pfizer. Another method mentioned by Pauly was quitting cold turkey during pregnancy.

“If nicotine is a culprit, why would a physician encourage the use of nicotine replacement therapy when the number one rule is to do no harm?” Pauly said.

Nicole Sofranko, a junior psychology major, said she found the fact that people who were exposed to nicotine were more likely to commit felonies particularly interesting.

The presentation was sponsored by the Department of Biological Sciences. Pauly was introduced by Mark Bardgett, psychology professor.

Pauly graduated from NKU in 1980 with an undergraduate degree in biology. He went on to get his master’s degree from Western Kentucky University and his doctorate at Marquette University in biology. Pauly is currently a professor at the University of Kentucky in the department of pharmaceutical sciences.