New figures show how many women in Hartlepool were still smoking during pregnancy
Hundreds of women have been recorded as smoking during pregnancy in Hartlepool in the past year, new figures reveal.
Health officials say they need to step up efforts to stub out smoking amongst expectant mothers, with women from deprived areas at particular risk of complications caused by cigarettes.
New NHS Digital data shows 18% of mums who gave birth between April and September in the Hartlepool and Stockton Clinical Commissioning Group area were smokers – representing 279 out of the 1,520 maternities recorded during that time.
This was far higher than the 6% target the Government wants CCGs to meet by the end of 2022.
Health experts continue to warn against smoking during pregnancy due to the serious health problems it can cause.
They include complications during labour and a raised risk of miscarriage, premature birth, stillbirth and sudden, unexpected death in infancy.
Despite the dangers, only 28 of 191 CCGs in England are already below the incoming target.
Deborah Arnott, chief executive of charity Action on Smoking and Health, said: "Smoking during pregnancy is a leading cause of still birth, miscarriage and birth defects.
"The proportion of women smoking during pregnancy nationally has stuck at just over one in 10 for years now, and in some areas is as high as one in four. This is a disgrace, and demands urgent action."
The British Lung Foundation cautions that smoking's dwindling popularity among the general public still poses problems for policymakers.
"As smoking rates fall, the remaining smokers are likely to be those who need the most help," said Rachael Hodges, the health charity's senior policy officer.
"Stop smoking services benefit people from disadvantaged communities where smoking rates are typically higher."
However, "harsh cuts" to public health funding have left CCGs and councils struggling to offer this support, she added.
Professor Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent, chief midwifery officer for England, said: "Having a baby in this country is now safer than ever but smoking while carrying a baby puts both parent and child at avoidable and potentially deadly risk.”