ASH Wales is calling for pregnant smokers to be offered financial incentives and additional support to quit the habit after new figures show an alarming rise in those smoking throughout their pregnancy in Wales.
According to Welsh Government’s latest Maternity and Birth Statistics around 5,000 babies were born to smoking mothers in 2020.
Smoking rates were highest among pregnant 16 to 19-year-olds with one in three (35%) smoking throughout their pregnancy – an increase of five percentage points since the previous year.
There has also been a rise of five percentage points in the number of women aged 40 to 44 who smoke throughout pregnancy.
Overall, in Wales one in six mothers (17%) were recorded as being smokers at the time they gave birth – one percentage point higher than the previous year. The number of mothers recorded as being smokers at their initial assessment remained the same as the previous year at 17%.
The figures show that 18% of women who were smokers at their initial assessment had quit by the time of the baby’s birth.
Smoking in pregnancy seriously harms the health of both babies and mothers, doubling the likelihood of a still birth and making the risk of a miscarriage up to 32% higher. Babies born to mothers who smoked in pregnancy are 50% more likely to have heart defects and 27% more likely to be born prematurely. The risk of sudden infant death is also three times higher if a mother smokes in pregnancy.
Evidence shows offering financial incentives such as shopping vouchers, have been found to be one of the most effective ways to help women to quit. The 2019 Cochrane Review found that pregnant women who received incentives to quit were more than twice as likely to quit smoking during pregnancy and remain smoke free after their baby’s birth compared to those who did not receive incentives.
Programmes offering pregnant women shopping vouchers as incentives to quit smoking have been successfully run across the UK including by NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde where women offered incentives were twice as likely to have quit at 34-38 weeks gestation. In the North West region of England, a similar project saw 69% of women who participated quit smoking during pregnancy.
ASH Wales is also calling for measures to provide additional support and monitoring of pregnant smokers, including:
- Targeted smoking cessation support in areas of Wales where smoking prevalence is highest
- Specialist support for pregnant teenagers
- Regular CO monitoring of all pregnant women
ASH Wales CEO Suzanne Cass said: “It is extremely worrying that rates of smoking in pregnancy in Wales remain so high, putting the lives of thousands of babies at risk every year.
“While it is encouraging that 18% of pregnant smokers had quit by the time their baby was born, the numbers still smoking at the time of their birth remain high – particularly among teenagers.
“There is strong evidence that offering pregnant women financial incentives such as shopping vouchers, to quit smoking is highly effective. We would like to see Wales adopt an incentive scheme that encourages women to take up tailored smoking cessation support during their pregnancy.
“Additional support and monitoring of all pregnant women in Wales is also needed as a matter of urgency and we are calling for a package of measures to provide specialist smoking cessation support for all pregnant women in Wales especially teenage smokers.”
Commenting, the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) Director for Wales, Helen Rogers, said:
“It is very concerning that the number of smokers in pregnancy in Wales is not falling. These latest statistics show no real change on last year’s report. What is even more worrying is that one in three girls between the age of 16-19 years old are recorded as smokers at the time of giving birth. The devastating effects of smoking in pregnancy are well documented, particularly the link between smoking in pregnancy and stillbirths. Efforts now need to be redoubled to improve intervention as a matter of urgency.”
“A concerted effort is needed to target areas in Wales where smoking levels remain high. Quitting smoking is not easy and pregnant women need more specialist support to help them stop for good. We know that higher rates of smoking are closely linked to wider social and financial inequalities in Wales. As a country there is much we can do, not just in maternity services, but much wider across society in other ways, such as education in schools, focusing on positive preconception care, advice, and support. All of this needs investment if we are to truly tackle smoking in pregnancy rates in Wales.”