Call for 'bold' Government action on smoking in pregnancy

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A coalition of health and maternity organisations are urging the Government to take action, as smoking in pregnancy reduction rates are feared to be stalling.

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The Smoking in Pregnancy Challenge Group wants the Government to take action amid stalling numbers of pregnant women giving up the habit

On the morning new Government statistics on smoking are released for 2017/18 showing there has been little change in the number of pregnant women smoking on the previous year, the Smoking in Pregnancy Challenge Group, has called for ‘bold’ Government action to tackle the issue.

The NHS figures reveal that just under 11 per cent of pregnant women were known to be smokers at the time of delivery in 2017/18. This is slightly up from 10.4 per cent in 2016/17.

A new report from the Smoking in Pregnancy Challenge group warns that unless more is done, the Government is unlikely to meet its ambition of reducing the smoking in pregnancy rate to less than 6 per cent by 2022.

According to the Challenge Group, if the Government met its stated ambition, it would mean that around 30,000 fewer women would be smoking in pregnancy. It says this would lead to:

  • 45-73 fewer stillborn babies
  • 11-25 fewer neonatal deaths
  • 7-11 fewer sudden infant deaths
  • 482-796 fewer pre-term babies
  • 1,455-2,407 fewer babies born at low birth weight

However, it says avoiding these tragic outcomes is only possible if rates of smoking in pregnancy are reduced.

The Challenge Group goes on to make a number of recommendations to increase the ‘pace of change’, including:

  • National action to ensure all areas have evidence-based services and processes in place to identify, refer and support pregnant women who smoke to quit and address the large variation in performance around the country.
  • Increase support for women from disadvantaged backgrounds where smoking in pregnancy rates are highest. This should include greater use of incentive schemes, supporting women between pregnancies and providing support to fathers and other household members.
  • Increase use of alternative sources of nicotine to support pregnant women in their attempts to quit.
  • Address gaps in training for midwives, obstetricians and health visitors.

Francine Bates, chief executive of The Lullaby Trust and co-chair of the Smoking in Pregnancy Challenge Group, said, ‘This report should be a wake-up call. On the current trajectory, the Government will miss its ambition to reduce rates of smoking among pregnant women with tragic consequences. We have made real progress in the past in helping women to have smoke free pregnancies and we must be ambitious about what can be achieved in the future to protect thousands of families from entirely preventable and heart-breaking outcomes.’

Dr Max Davie, officer for health promotion for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), said, ‘Smoking during pregnancy can significantly harm a baby and with over 4,000 toxic chemicals going straight into their fragile body with each cigarette smoked, it’s hardly surprising the risks are so serious – stillbirth, cot death, problems breathing and feeding and being more prone to infection.

‘Government’s smoking in pregnancy reduction target might seem ambitious but with concerted effort, it can be achieved and as a result hundreds of babies will go on to survive and thrive. As children’s doctors, we fully support the recommendations outlined in today’s report and urge Government to act quickly, particularly with support aimed at those families considered most at risk.’

Public health minister Steve Brine said, 'Thanks to our tough action smoking rates are at their lowest ever levels. But we are not complacent and we know that we need to re-focus to drive down rates in particular groups, such as pregnant smokers. That's why our new Tobacco Control Plan sets out challenging new ambitions to reduce smoking in pregnancy to six per cent by 2022, and we are determined to achieve that.'

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