Hundreds of mums in Hartlepool smoked during pregnancy, according to new health figures released today.
Statistics issued by the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) show that, during 2015/16, there were 3,215 births and 583 pregnant mums in Hartlepool and Stockton who were smokers at the time of delivery.
That equates to 18.1% - above the north east average of 16%.
The figure is also far higher than the national average of 10.6%.
Overall, Hartlepool is the 19th-ranked area for pregnant smokers in England. Blackpool (26%), North East Lincolnshire (23.5%) and South Tyneside (21.8%) have the three highest levels.
For the NHS Durham Dales, Easington and Sedgefield, there were 2,843 births, with 589 expectant mums who were smokers at the time of delivery, a rate of 20.7%. That made it the sixth highest rate in England.
Carole Johnson, Head of Health Improvement at Hartlepool Borough Council, said: "Smoking is one of the biggest risks to the health of an unborn baby and tackling smoking in pregnancy continues to be one of our top public health priorities.
"Some good progress has been made – the 2009/10 figure was 22.1% across the Hartlepool and Stockton Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) area and today this is 18.1% – but more still needs to be done to bring us in line with the figure for England as a whole of 10.6%.
"Staff from Hartlepool Borough Council, working alongside colleagues from Stockton Council, have developed an annual action plan which is delivered through a full range of partners involved in helping pregnant women and their families to quit smoking.
"Smoking cessation support is available through midwives, midwifery assistants and the nine drop-in clinics run around Hartlepool by the Stop Smoking Service. Five pharmacies in the town also offer a comprehensive programme of support.
"We also support BabyClear – a North East initiative to ensure every woman smoking during pregnancy is given full, frank and factual information about the harm caused by smoking during pregnancy."
Ailsa Rutter, Director of Fresh Smoke Free North East, said: "Despite the figures showing that the North East still has the highest SATOD rates in England, we as a region have been taking a lot of positive steps to address this.
"Since the launch of the babyClear initiative in 2012, we’ve trained up hundreds of front-line maternity staff to talk about the dangers of smoking in pregnancy with expectant mothers, and automatically refer smokers into free, local support to help them quit.
"We now have around 1,500 fewer North East women who smoke in pregnancy, a drop of a quarter.
"It is clear that there is still some way to go to, but we have already seen some of the biggest drops in SATOD rates over last three years, thanks in no small part to the excellent work by North East midwifery staff and stop smoking services.
"We plan to continue to work with mothers-to- be to reduce maternal smoking rates further still."