Skip to main content
Press Release

Government set to miss smoking in pregnancy target by nearly a decade, charities warn

22 Jun 2023

Campaigners have warned that the Government is on track to miss its target to reduce the number of women who smoke during pregnancy by a decade.

In 2017, the Government set a target to reduce rates of maternal smoking to 6% by 2022. [1] However, new data for 2022/23 show that this target has been missed, with 8.8% of pregnant women smoking during this period. [2]

Modelling done by the Smoking in Pregnancy Challenge Group shows that the 6% target won’t be reached until 2032 if maternal smoking rates continue to decline at the same rate they have since 2015. The Group is calling on the Government to publish a comprehensive strategy to tackle smoking across the whole population, with specific measures to address smoking during pregnancy.

In April, the Government announced a national financial incentive scheme which will be offered to all pregnant women who smoke by the end of 2024. [3] However, ministers have abandoned previous commitments to publish a new Tobacco Control Plan and have instead said that further unspecified measures will be announced in the Major Conditions Strategy.

Professor Linda Bauld, Director of the SPECTRUM Research Consortium and Co-Chair of the Smoking in Pregnancy Challenge Group said:

"While we welcome recent declines in maternal smoking rates, progress simply isn’t happening fast enough.

"We urgently need the Government to set out a bold strategy to get us on track to giving every child a smokefree start by 2040. This means raising the age of sale for tobacco to 21 to reduce smoking among younger mums who are much more likely than older women to smoke during pregnancy.

"Helping more mums-to-be quit smoking would not only spare dozens of families from the heartbreak of losing their baby to stillbirth or miscarriage, but would also ease pressure on vital NHS services and put money spent on tobacco back in people’s pockets."

Dr Clea Harmer, Co-Chair Smoking in Pregnancy Challenge Group and Chief Executive of Sands, said:

"We are deeply concerned that the Government has missed their target of 6% or fewer pregnant women smoking by 2022 and isn’t on track to achieve it until the 2030s.

"The measures announced in April are an important step in the right direction, but they follow years of inaction and delay from successive Governments. The previous Tobacco Control Plan has now expired, leaving England with no target for reducing smoking among pregnant women.

"The Government urgently needs to publish a comprehensive strategy to tackle smoking among mums-to-be and the communities they live in. This should include a levy on tobacco companies to raise much-needed funding for tobacco control."

Progress in reducing rates of smoking during pregnancy (SATOD) since 2015

Notes to the editor

About the Smoking in Pregnancy Challenge Group

The Smoking in Pregnancy Challenge Group is a coalition of organisations committed to reducing rates of smoking in pregnancy.

The Group is a partnership between the Royal College of Midwives, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, the voluntary sector and academia.

The Group is jointly chaired by Dr. Clea Harmer, Chief Executive of Sands, and Professor Linda Bauld of the SPECTRUM Research Consortium and the University of Edinburgh.