England’s top midwife has stressed the dangers of smoking while pregnant amid concerns about a lack of progress in getting more mothers-to-be to quit.
Professor Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent, chief midwifery officer for England, spoke out after new figures revealed more than one in 10 women last year were still smoking by the time they gave birth.
“Smoking while carrying a baby puts both parent and child at avoidable and potentially deadly risk”
While the proportion of women smoking during pregnancy has fallen by nearly a third in the past decade, the statistics suggest progress has slowed with some warning the government is at risk of missing its target to reduce rates to 6% or less by 2020.
The figures, published in a report by NHS Digital, show 10.6% of mothers-to-be – about 61,400 women in all – were still smoking when their babies were born in 2018-19 slightly down on 10.8% the previous year.
The new data reveals wide variations in rates of women smoking during pregnancy in different parts of the country.
Corby, Durham and Mansfield were among a number of areas where more than one in five mums-to-be is a smoker.
Meanwhile, expectant mothers in the London region were least likely to be smokers, with fewer than one in 20 still smoking by the time their baby was born.
The data shows just 28 out of 195 clinical commissioning groups had so far met the government’s 6% ambition with eight CCGs reporting rates of more than 20%.
“Quitting smoking is absolutely vital for a healthy mum and healthy baby”
Two thirds of areas in London had achieved the target with parts of the capital seeing rates of between 1% and 3%.
At the other end of the scale was Blackpool, where more than one in four women continued to smoke up to the birth of their child.
As well as smoking being a leading cause of cancer, lighting up during pregnancy can lead to particular health problems for women and increase the risk of babies dying.
Professor Dunkley-Bent said it was “absolutely vital” that mothers-to-be stopped smoking.
“Having a baby in this country is now safer than ever but smoking while carrying a baby puts both parent and child at avoidable and potentially deadly risk,” she said.
“No woman should have to experience the heartbreak of stillbirth, and quitting smoking is absolutely vital for a healthy mum and healthy baby,” she added.
The NHS Long Term Plan for England, launched earlier this year, sets out a number of measures to reduce the rates of women smoking while pregnant.
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- NHS plan will see roll out of care bundles to reduce stillbirths
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Under the plan, all pregnant women will be offered specialist smoking cessation advice and electronic carbon monoxide tests during antenatal appointments.
However, campaign groups said the new figures showed more needed to be done, particularly when it came to supporting women from disadvantaged backgrounds to quit.
“Today’s figures show a worrying lack of progress in supporting all women to have smokefree pregnancies,” said Dr Clea Harmer, co-chair of the Smoking in Pregnancy Challenge Group.
She said: “Smoking is a leading cause of stillbirth and neonatal death and without urgent action the government is at risk of missing not only the ambition of the Tobacco Control Pan but also its aim to halve rates of stillbirths, neonatal and maternal deaths by 2025.”
The group is calling for increased support for women from disadvantaged backgrounds in area where smoking during pregnancy rates are highest.
“This should include greater use of financial incentive schemes, supporting women between pregnancies and providing support to fathers and other household members,” said Dr Harmer.
“Today’s figures show a worrying lack of progress in supporting all women to have smokefree pregnancies”
The statistics released today also include figures on the prevalence of smoking by age, use of e-cigarettes, hospital admissions and deaths due to smoking and exposure to second-hand smoke.
The Statistics on Smoking England: 2019 report, which includes data from Public Health England and the Office for National Statistics, shows the number of adult smokers in England has dropped by around 1.8 million from 7.7 million in 2011 to 5.9 million in 2018.
The proportion of adults who smoke was 14.4% in 2018, down from 14.9% the previous year.
The figures show adults aged 25 to 32 were most likely to smoke with 19% recorded as smokers in 2018, while those aged 65 and over were least likely to smoke at 8%.
The latest data on young people’s smoking habits shows 6% of schoolchildren aged 11 to 15 said they smoked, down from 22% in 1996.
The data shows the use of e-cigarettes continues to rise with 6.3% of adults using the devices in 2018, up from 5.5% in 2017.
The most common reason for adults using e-cigarettes was to help them stop smoking with more than half saying that was the main motivation.
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The report includes data on the use of NHS stop smoking services and successful attempts to quit.
According to the statistics, the number of people setting a quit date fell for the sixth year in a row to just over 274,000 in 2017-18. This is an 11% decrease on 2016-17.
However, the reduction may be partly due to the increased use of e-cigarettes, which are widely available outside smoking cessation services.
The number of items dispensed on prescription to help people stop smoking in England was 740,000 in 2018-19 compared with 2.26 million 10 years ago.
The figures show there were 489,300 estimated hospital admissions due to smoking in 2017-18, which is up 1% on 2016-17.
There were an estimated 77,800 deaths attributable to smoking in 2017, down from 77,900 in 2016 with a 6% drop in deaths due to smoking in the past decade.