Innovative partnerships have led social epidemiologist Summer Hawkins beyond conventional conclusions in a study about smoking during pregnancy


Health problems—and their potential solutions—often have implications far beyond the communities in which they occur. Problem solvers are smart to engage in novel, interdisciplinary research in order to inspire the most significant influence possible.

Since arriving at BC Social Work, Summer Hawkins has consistently applied this perspective, pursuing unique collaborations with colleagues in nursing and economics, as she establishes herself as a social epidemiologist intent on molding policy to improve lives.

Hawkins’ most recent research, conducted with BC economics professor Christopher Baum and published in the AJPH and JAMA Pediatrics, employs large-scale epidemiological analyses of the habits of pregnant women and the health of their newborns, in order to determine whether certain state tobacco control policies might mitigate smoking in pregnant women. The team found that states with higher cigarette taxes experienced lower rates of maternal smoking during pregnancy and better birth outcomes, especially in white and black women with less than a high school education.

“When policies are developed at the state level, we don’t always think of the downstream impact they can have on various groups,” explains Hawkins. “In this case, as politicians were drawing up cigarette tax laws, I’m not sure that they foresaw the positive influence these taxes could have on mothers and babies.

“This is a critical lesson to learn, and I’m hopeful that our research can have a positive impact on policy moving forward, as it relates to cigarette laws and their impact on mothers and babies, but also, more broadly in how we think about the role that social science research can play in creating better directed and more socially conscious legislation.”

$1 Tax Increase

For every $1 cigarette tax increase, low-educated white and black mothers decreased smoking by nearly 2 percentage points and smoked between 14 and 22 fewer cigarettes per month. (Hawkins and Baum Am J Public Health)