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Fewer than ever women smoke at point of birth

But huge disparity across England, with a quarter of birthing women smoking in some areas

Louise Prime

Friday, 17 June 2016

Fewer women than ever recorded in England are now smokers at the time they give birth, just one in ten across the whole country, according to the latest official statistics. However, the Health and Social Care Information Centre warned that in some regions of England, more than one in four women are smokers at the time of delivery.

HSCIC reported that in the year to March 2016, 10.6% of pregnant women in England were recorded as being smokers (excluding e-cigarette use) at the time that they delivered – 67,200 out of a total of 631,230 maternities. This is the first time national annual figures have been below the 11% target. This is better than the 11.4% reported for 2014-15, and a great improvement on the 15.1% in 2006-07, when such figures were first published.

However, this overall positive figure masks huge variations across the country in the proportion of pregnant women who smoke right up to delivery. In 2015-16 in Cumbria and North East, 16% of women were recorded as being smokers at the time of delivery; while in London as a whole, the prevalence was 4.9%. The very lowest figure was recorded in NHS Central London (Westminster) where only 1.5% of women were recorded as being smokers when they delivered – and the very highest in NHS Blackpool, where more than a quarter (26%) of women were smokers when they delivered.

Reducing smoking during pregnancy is one of the three national ambitions set out in the Tobacco Control Plan published in March 2011. In England, 103 out of 209 clinical commissioning groups (49.3%) met or beat the 11% target. Of the four commissioning regions, London had all 32 of its CCGs meeting the national ambition by the end of March 2016; South of England had 30 of its 50 CCGs doing so; Midlands and East of England had 26 of its 61 CCGs; and the North of England 15 of its 66 CCGs.

Louise Silverton, director for midwifery at the Royal College of Midwives, said: “Targets for reduction are fine but they need to be backed up with resources on an ongoing basis. What is needed is retention of local authority funding for family-based smoking cessation to include pregnant women. We know that women in poverty are more likely to smoke so extra help and support needs to be given …

“This is particularly needed in high smoking areas. Health providers should ensure there are enough midwives with the time to offer women support, advice and referral to smoking cessation services … There is also a need for support services that work with the whole family.”

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