Kids’ lungs harmed by tobacco in the womb

Tuesday 21 March 2000

ASH/ Press releases/


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Press Release
21st March 2000
Embargo: 00:01
Action on Smoking
and Health

Kids’ lungs harmed by cigarettes while still in the womb

New research [1] published today shows that babies exposed to their mothers’ cigarette smoke before they are born grow up with reduced lung function – on average 3-6% reduced airflow, especially in the small airways. Researchers tested over 3300 children in California and isolated the effects of post-natal passive smoking from pre-natal in utero exposure

Clive Bates, Director of ASH said: “when babies are exposed to the chemicals in cigarette smoke while still in the womb, it is just about the nastiest form of passive smoking imaginable and it looks as though it does lasting damage.”

“It’s hard to think of a more pervasive and pernicious assault on the health of the most vulnerable infants.” said Bates.

ASH warned against blaming the mothers; “only last month the Royal College of Physicians described cigarettes as addictive as drugs such as heroin or cocaine.” said Bates, “to deal with something as serious as that we need a full scale response from the NHS, not tut-tutting about smokers.”

Some facts [2]:

  • About 600,000 women are pregnant in any year
  • 23% of all women smoke through pregnancy and about one third at some point during their pregnancy.
  • 70% of women that are already smokers continue to smoke when pregnant.
  • Men don’t help! Only 7% of men smokers gave up when their partners became pregnant.
  • The Royal College of Physicians reports that 17,000 under-5s are hospitalised each year because of respiratory illnesses resulting from parental smoking [3].
  • The Government has a target to reduce smoking during pregnancy from 23% to 15% by 2010 (18% by 2005).

[1] Gilliland F. et al Maternal Smoking during pregnancy, environmental tobacco smoke exposure and childhood lung function. Thorax 2000; 55: 271-6. See or for Center for Health Advancement and author respectively. Contact BMJ press office 0207 383 6254.
[2] Health Education Authority, Smoking and pregnancy, 1999.
[3] Royal College of Physicians, Smoking and the young, 1992.


Contact Clive Bates, ASH (0207) 739 5902

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