‘It’s bad but things are improving’ – that’s the claim after new figures showed Blackpool has the highest numbers in the UK of pregnant women smoking.
NHS figures reveal that more than a quarter of women (27.2 per cent) were smokers at the time of birth in 2014/15.
That is significantly above the national average of 11.4 per cent – and way higher than the best area, central London, where just 2.1 per cent of mothers are smoking when their baby is born.
It is another embarrassing statistic for the resort, which already has alarmingly high rates of alcohol and drug abuse, deprivation, unemployment and life expectancy.
According to medical experts, smoking during pregnancy increases the chances of abnormal foetal growth, which in turns raises the risk of a baby being stillborn, among other health problems.
The Council acknowledges it is a major problem in the town, but says the situation has improved since the last set of figures were released.
“Smoking in pregnancy numbers are falling,” said Coun Eddie Collett, cabinet member for health inequalities.
“We have seen significant improvement since 2010 when rates were as high as 33 per cent.
“However, they still remain significantly higher than the national average and we need to continue our work to ensure that mothers and babies are protected from the significant harms of smoking.”
Overall, the latest figures are the lowest since records began in 2006/07, with 11.4 per cent of pregnant women smoking when they gave birth, representing 70,880 out of 622,640 maternities last year.
A year earlier the figure was 12 per cent, continuing the steady decline since 2006/7, which saw a high of 15.1 per cent.
The Government has a target of reducing the number of pregnant women smoking to 11 per cent by the end of the year.
Coun Collett says work will continue to ensure the figure in Blackpool continues to fall.
“We are working with our local communities to understand why women smoke during pregnancy and what we can do to support and influence them to stop,” he added.
“Access to specialist stop smoking service support has been improved by ensuring close links between maternity services and support services.
“There is still a way to go, but I am pleased we are moving in the right direction.”