New figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) show the prevalence of women giving birth who classed themselves as smokers at the time was 12 per cent, the lowest it has been in eight years of data collection.(1,4)
Today's report shows the prevalence of women who classed themselves as smokers whilst pregnant fell to 12.0 per cent (75,910 out of 632,960 maternities)(2) from 12.7 per cent (83,490 out of 658,110 maternities) in the previous year(3), and this continues the steady decline from 2006-07 when this was 15.1 per cent.(4)
Since 2006-07 the number of women who smoked whilst pregnant fell by 16 per cent (from 90,890) but overall maternities increased by 5 per cent (from 601,260).
Despite a continuous decline in the prevalence of pregnant smokers, the published national ambition6to reduce rates of smoking throughout pregnancy to 11 per cent or less by the end of 2015 has not yet been reached, however over one third of Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) are currently achieving this (39 per cent or 82 out of 211).
Statistics on Women's Smoking Status at Time of Delivery is a quarterly report for the period January 2014 to March 2014 which also gives an annual picture that can be compared with data going back to 2006-07.(6)
In the 12 months to March 2014 in England(6):
- There was wide regional variation in women who smoked during pregnancy, with the highest prevalence in the Durham, Darlington and Tees Area Team (20.6 per cent) and the lowest prevalence in the London Area Team (5.1 per cent).
- At CCG level NHS Blackpool had the highest prevalence where more than one in four mothers smoked during pregnancy (27.5 per cent) and both NHS Central London (Westminster) and NHS Richmond had the lowest prevalence (1.9 per cent).
- Almost one in twelve CCGs (18 of the 211 CCGs) recorded a prevalence of at least one fifth of women smoking during pregnancy.
- Of the four Commissioning Regions, London had the highest proportion of CCGs that are meeting the national ambition (97 per cent of 32 CCGs), followed by CCGs in the South of England (52 per cent out of 50 CCGs) and those in the Midlands and East of England (26 per cent of 61 CCGs). The North of England had the lowest proportion of CCGs that are meeting the national ambition (13 per cent of 68 CCGs).
HSCIC Chair Kingsley Manning said: "It is encouraging to see that since 2006-07 the number of pregnant women who smoked during pregnancy has declined. However, there is still a little way to go to achieve the national ambition.
"Today's figures highlight there is a still work to be done and it is fundamental that mothers-to-be are aware of the damaging effects smoking can have on their baby."
The full report can be found at http://www.hscic.gov.uk/pubs/wsstd1314q4
Response from the British Lung Foundation:
Dr Nick Hopkinson, medical adviser to the British Lung Foundation said:
"It is excellent news that fewer women are smoking while they are pregnant - quitting smoking is one of the most important ways that parents can ensure their children get a good start in life. Babies' developing lungs are damaged by smoking during pregnancy and passive smoke exposure in early life is a major cause of chest problems including asthma and pneumonia.
"The wide variation in smoking rates is a cause for concern. Resources to help people to quit need to be targeted especially at areas where rates are still high.
"Smoke free legislation has been very effective and the government needs to take urgent action to implement further tobacco control legislation including standardised tobacco packaging and a ban on smoking in cars with children, both measures which received overwhelming support in Parliament".
Response from health charity ASH:
Carbon monoxide testing for all pregnant woman will save babies' lives
The campaigning health charity ASH welcomes the news released today by the HSCIC that smoking rates among pregnant women have fallen to their lowest recorded level at 12%. However, one baby a day is still dying in the UK as a result of mothers smoking during pregnancy. In 2011, the Government set a national ambition to reduce smoking in pregnancy at a time when rates of smoking at time of delivery were 14%. Yet with the current rate of progress, we are unlikely to meet the stated ambition to reach rates of 11% or lower by 2015.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommended that Carbon Monoxide testing was an essential part of routine care for pregnant women in 2010. However, uptake has been slow and many women are still not offered the test. As well as identifying exposure to carbon monoxide from smoking itself, the test can also identify carbon monoxide exposure from second hand smoke or leaking gas fires and environmental pollution. Carbon monoxide from smoke or pollution gets into the mother's blood and reduces oxygen reaching the baby, which can affect its growth.
Smoking rates among pregnant women in poor and disadvantaged groups and teenage mothers-to-be remain much higher than the general population. In the Infant Feeding Survey 2010, mothers in routine and manual occupations and those who had never worked were five times more likely to have smoked throughout pregnancy compared to women in managerial and professional occupations (20%, 21% and 4% respectively). This is a major concern as it causes higher rates of stillbirth, premature birth, low birth weight and sudden infant death in babies born to mothers from disadvantaged groups compared to the general population.
Stopping during pregnancy is important and remaining smokefree after the baby's birth is also critical. Exposure to tobacco smoke in the home damages babies and children, just as it does in the womb. Quitting smoking is one of the best things new mothers and their partners can to do protect their children's health.
Commenting, ASH Chief Executive Deborah Arnott said:
"I am pleased to see that rates of smoking in pregnancy nationally are decreasing. However, with one baby a day dying in the UK as a result of mothers smoking during pregnancy, we must do more to tackle this issue. Midwives say they find Carbon Monoxide testing a useful way start a conversation about smoking with pregnant women. We know that where women are offered testing, they are more likely to quit. We want all women to be given that opportunity".