Amanda Brenden is featured in Tips from a Former Smoker ad campaign from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nicole Villalpando/American-Statesman


Amanda Brenden might look familiar. Often, people can’t quite remember where they have seen her. Brenden has been on your TV and in magazines. She’s not your typical celebrity. She’s a mom of three children from Eau Claire, Wis., who is trying to get pregnant women to understand the danger of smoking while pregnant.

Brenden is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s ad campaign “Tips from Former Smokers.” In her ad, she tells you that her baby was born two months early and weighed 3 pounds. Her tip: when you visit your baby in an incubator in the neonatal intensive care unit, “Speak into the opening so your baby can hear you better.”


Brenden, 33, is in Austin this week to speak at the National Conference of Tobacco or Health. It’s a conference of state, local and federal officials working on reducing the use of tobacco. Brenden will be talking about making the CDC ad, her work as a smoking cessation counselor for Wisconsin Womens Health Foundation, and what health care providers can do to help their patients stop smoking.

Brenden started smoking in fifth grade. She grew up in a house where her parents smoked, and everyone around them smoked. She was a kid who hated the smell of cigarette smoke and hated that her parents smoked, and yet, when a friend got a cigarette from an older sibling, she tried it.

“It was an adult thing to do,” she says

By middle school, she was smoking daily. Friends would pool money and ask other people to buy cigarettes for them, or they would use the cigarette vending machines (which are no longer legal), or she and her friends would take their parents’ cigarettes. “We all had easy access to cigarettes,” Brenden says.

Her parents definitely didn’t want her smoking and her mom even talked to her about it, but as we all know, telling a middle-schooler something and having her actually do it, isn’t the same thing.  “My mom didn’t want any of her kids smoking,” she says, and yet all three ended up smoking. Her father now has stage four lung cancer and has quit. Her mom and her siblings have not.

Teachers didn’t say much, except the one who told her wellness class that she would pay for cessation programs for anyone who wanted it. “I don’t think anyone took her up on that offer,” Brenden says.

Smoking in Western Wisconsin was a part of life there.

Yet, Brenden always thought she would quit. She never thought she would be pregnant and smoking. When she was in college, she got engaged and became pregnant. “It wasn’t the plan to become pregnant while smoking,” she says. School and being pregnant was stressful, and the way that Brenden knew how to deal with stress was to smoke.

The only conversation she had with her doctor about smoking was “well. you’re not smoking very much.” Brenden was still smoking a half a pack a day, down to the pack-a-day habit she did have. She tried to quit and even tried a smoking cessation program.

Amanda Brenden’s ad talks about her daughter’s birth. CDC

At 31 weeks, her water broke. She was rushed to a level three hospital two hours away. No one told her it was because of the smoking that caused her to have a premature baby. Instead, they blamed it on the snowstorm and the change in the barometric pressure.

The birth and the weeks in the NICU “feels like a bad dream,” Brenden says. “It’s hard to go back to that hospital. The smell brings me back.”

Of course, once she started working on smoking cessation and talking to women about their pregnancy experiences, she now knows that her smoking played a part in her daughter, who is now 10, being born at 31 weeks gestation. And she believes her smoking and the premature birth has added to her daughter’s asthma and allergies.

Even after her daughter was born, Brenden tried many times to quit smoking. Quitting smoking was her New Year’s resolution every year. She tried cessation drugs and hypnotism. She even stopped once, but it didn’t stick. When she was pregnant with her younger two children, who are now 7 and 4, she also smoked, though much less than before. They were both born full-term.

Even though she wasn’t smoking in her house, she now knows what third-hand smoke can do. That’s the smoke that sits on your clothes, your skin, your hair. She thinks about holding her children close to her with cigarette smoke on her.

“It’s still hard,” she says of the guilt she feels, but doing the CDC ad, talking to women about stopping smoking has really helped her.

Brenden finally quit in 2012 and went to work for Wisconsin Womens Health Foundation in 2013.

She says the timing was finally right. “I really feel like God was telling me it’s time to stop,” she says. She also didn’t want her children to remember her as a smoker, and she thought about that every time she would hide outside to smoke.

“It was always something I wanted to do,” she says. “I thought about it daily, with every cigarette I smoked.”

Brenden started exercising, she listened to worship music, she prayed a lot. And she did it.

She almost didn’t apply to do the CDC ad, but she says “I really feel like God wanted me to,” she says.

“I know it would really help women quit smoking,” she says. “They could realize, ‘It could happen to me.” It did happen to me.”

One of the other Tips from Smokers ads did inspire her. Terry is seen putting in her teeth, then her wig on her head, then her tracheotomy cover, then a scarf to cover it.  “I didn’t want that to happen to me.”

She still thinks about smoking, especially when she’s stressed out, but it’s a quick thought, she says. She prays and gives herself positive self talk: “You’ve got this.”

Tips from a Former Smoker started in 2012 and the CDC estimates that about 500,000 people have been inspired to quit for good. It estimates that for every $2,000 it spends on ads, it prevents a death and for every $400, it prolongs a person’s life by a year.

The Tips ads are running through June this year and are paid for by the prevention fund from the Affordable Care Act.

Here are the facts about pregnancy and smoking from the CDC:

Your baby may be born too small, even after a full-term pregnancy. Smoking slows your baby’s growth before birth. Your baby may be born too early (premature birth). Premature babies often have health problems.5 Smoking can damage your baby’s developing lungs and brain. The damage can last through childhood and into the teen years.4 Smoking doubles your risk of abnormal bleeding during pregnancy and delivery. This can put both you and your baby in danger.5 Smoking raises your baby’s risk for birth defects, including cleft lip, cleft palate, or both. A cleft is an opening in your baby’s lip or in the roof of her mouth (palate). He or she can have trouble eating properly and is likely to need surgery. 1,4 Babies of moms who smoke during pregnancy—and babies exposed to cigarette smoke after birth—have a higher risk for SIDS.1

If a mom stops smoking:1

Her baby gets more oxygen, even after just one day. Her baby will grow better. Her baby is less likely to be born too early. She’ll have more energy and breathe more easily. She will be less likely to develop heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, lung disease, and other smoking-related diseases.

Find more facts here. 

FYI also from the CDC: Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the United States, accounting for more than 480,000 deaths every year, or 1 of every 5 deaths.

In 2015, about 15 of every 100 U.S. adults aged 18 years or older (15.1 percent) currently smoked cigarettes. This means an estimated 36.5 million adults in the United States currently smoke cigarettes. More than 16 million Americans live with a smoking-related disease.

There is good news: Current smoking has declined from nearly 21 of every 100 adults (20.9 percent) in 2005 to about 15.1 percent in 2015.