HEALTH chiefs have given a stark warning to women who continue to smoke during pregnancy saying every breath of smoke harms their baby.
Official figures show just under a quarter of expectant mums in Hartlepool continue to smoke – almost twice the average in England.
Local health chiefs say every puff the mother takes harms their baby by putting its tiny heart under increased strain.
Hartlepool Borough Council, which is responsible for public health in the town, says tackling smoking rates is one of their top priorities as it is the town’s biggest cause of early deaths.
Judith Rees, a specialist stop smoking adviser at North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Every cigarette smoked by a pregnant woman harms her unborn baby, restricting the oxygen supply, so their tiny heart has to beat harder every time the mother smokes.”
Data published by government agency Public Health England revealed that 259 pregnant Hartlepool mums – 22.7 per cent – smoked during their pregnancy in 2011-12.
That is substantially higher than the England average which stands at 13.3 per cent.
The shocking statistics are included in Hartlepool’s health profile produced by Public Health England which gives an overview of how healthy the town is.
It says almost a quarter of adults smoke (23.5 per cent) and there were 188 smoking related deaths between 2009-11.
Councillor Carl Richardson, chairman of the town’s Health and Wellbeing Board, said: “Encouraging people to stop smoking is one of our top priorities as it is the single largest cause of premature death in Hartlepool – over 150 every year.
“Smoking in pregnancy is not only harmful to the expectant mum; it also harms the baby and other people who might inhale the smoke.
“All the relevant organisations are working very hard to provide the best possible advice and support to smokers and we were recently involved in the national Stoptober campaign as part of our pro-active efforts to help smokers quit.
“Giving up smoking can be hard and I would like to emphasise that there is lots of excellent help available to support people through the process.”
Local health partners say there is a host of help available to help smokers kick the habit.
Ms Rees added: “We know it is difficult for women to stop smoking in pregnancy, but the sooner you can stop smoking, the better. There are immediate benefits being smoke free for mum and baby.
“We’re here to help. That’s why we run a number of drop-in sessions in locations and at times to suit everyone across Hartlepool and Stockton and we work with midwifery assistants to provide this support.
“Quite often, it can take people a few times to try and quit smoking and we’re here to support women and their families to quit.”
For information about the help that is out their to quit smoking call (01642) 383819 or visit www.nth.nhs.uk/stopsmoking or www.smokefree.nhs.uk/stoptober