Smoking in Pregnancy Challenge Group media release: smoking during pregnancy rates

15 June 2017

Smoking rates among pregnant women should be a wake-up call for the Government

New figures today point to a slowdown in progress to reduce rates of smoking in pregnancy. This comes on the day when national figures show that overall rates of smoking have fallen to a record low raising concerns about growing inequalities as women who smoke in pregnancy are more likely to be experiencing disadvantage.

Today’s data finds that rates of smoking among pregnant women have hardly changed over the last 12 months with only a 0.1% decline from 10.6% in 2015/16 to 10.5%today [1].  It is particularly concerning that maternal smoking at time of birth rose in quarter 4 2016/17 to 10.8% [1]. This should raise concerns for the Government given their national target was 11% in 2015. In comparison, data on adult smoking rates released today shows a record decline of 1.4% between 2015 and 2016 [2].

Good progress has been made in recent years to reduce rates of smoking in pregnant women and it is unclear why they should have stalled in the last 12 months. However, the Smoking in Pregnancy Challenge Group [3], a coalition of health charities working to reduce rates of smoking in pregnancy, is concerned that cuts to local services and the capacity of maternity staff to appropriately support and encourage women to quit, have not helped.

Francine Bates, Chief Executive of the Lullaby Trust and co-chair of the Challenge Group said:

“Clearly the job is not done. Smoking tragically remains the cause of too many babies’ deaths each year with many more born prematurely or with health conditions. We cannot afford to go backwards having made good progress. The Government must urgently publish the now long promised Tobacco Control Plan to not only address smoking in pregnancy but ensure that fewer women are smoking when they become pregnant.”

Professor Linda Bauld, University of Stirling and co-chair of the Challenge Group said:

“Progress is possible but it requires concerted Government action. Without this, there is a risk of widening inequalities as we fail to reach the women who most need help and support. We need good local services on the ground and a comprehensive national strategy with strong new targets that seek to narrow the difference in smoking rates between rich and poor.”

 The Government has repeatedly committed to publish a new Tobacco Control Plan for England. In March 2017 the Minister of State for Health Philip Dunne responding to a debate on Baby Loss reassured MPs that a new Tobacco Control Plan would be forthcoming saying: “We are looking to take considerable action to advance the cause of reducing smoking…I very much hope that we will be able to progress with the next iteration of the tobacco control plan in the next few months” [4]

Hazel Cheeseman, Director of Policy at Action on Smoking and Health which co-ordinates the Challenge Group, said:

“Over the last four years the Smoking in Pregnancy Challenge Group has published two reviews of Government action and made a number of recommendations. We have been pleased to work with Public Health England and NHS England to put some of those recommendations into practice. This work must continue and it is important that smoking continues to be a priority if the Government’s targets to reduce stillbirths are to be met.”


Members of the Challenge Group are available for interview and for more information. Please contact ASH on 020 7404 0242 or out of hours Hazel Cheeseman on 07754 358 593.


[1] NHS Digital, Statistics on women’s smoking status at time of delivery, England – Quarter 4 2016/17, June 2017

Women smoking at time of delivery

2016/17 – 10.5%

2015/16 – 10.6%

2014/15 – 11.4%

2013/14 – 12.0%

2012/13 – 12.7%

[2] ONS, Statistics on Smoking, England 2017, June 2017

[3] Smoking in Pregnancy Challenge Group is a coalition of health charities:

  • Royal College of Midwives
  • Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists
  • Royal College of General Practitioners
  • Royal College of Nursing
  • Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health
  • The Lullaby Trust
  • UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies
  • Action on Smoking and Health
  • Tommy’s
  • Bliss
  • Faculty of Public Health
  • National Centre for Smoking Cessation & Training
  • Community Practitioners and Health Visitors Association
  • Sands – Stillbirth and neonatal death charity
  • Institute of Health Visiting
  • Royal Society for Public Health
  • Fresh
  • Tobacco Control Collaborating Centre

[4] Backbench Business Debate Baby Loss (public health guidance) 21st March 2016


Action on Smoking and Health is a health charity working to eliminate the harm caused by tobacco use. For more information see:

ASH receives funding for its programme of work from Cancer Research UK and the British Heart Foundation.

ASH staff are available for interview and for more information and an ISDN line available for interviews. Please contact ASH on 020 7404 0242 or out of hours Deborah Arnott on 07976 935 987 or Hazel Cheeseman on 07754 358 593.