Smoking in pregnancy

How has the percentage of women who smoke during pregnancy changed over time?

Indicator

Last updated: 31/03/2022

Effective clinical care
Primary and community care Hospital care Public health Children and young people

Background

There is extensive evidence showing that smoking during pregnancy can have devastating consequences for mothers and their babies. Smoking while pregnant has been associated with a number of adverse outcomes, including stillbirth, preterm birth and low birth weight. 

The current target, set by the Department of Health in their tobacco control plan for England, is to reduce the prevalence of smoking during pregnancy to 6% or less by the end of 2022. 


How has the percentage of women who are known to be smokers at the time of delivery changed over time? 31/03/2022

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Note:  

*Data for 2021/22 is provisional, covering only April-September 2021

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The prevalence of smoking during pregnancy has been decreasing over time. Between 2006/07 and 2015/16, the percentage of women who were known to be smokers at the time of delivery decreased steadily from 15.8% to 11%. The target to reduce the percentage of women who smoke during pregnancy to 11% or less by the end of 2015 was met.

Since then, the reduction in smoking rates among pregnant women has slowed, with only a 1.4 percentage point decrease between 2015/16 and 2020/21. In the first two quarters of 2021/22, the percentage of pregnant women known to smoke at the time of delivery decreased to 9.1%. Data for 2021/22 is provisional and only covers quarters 1 and 2 (April–September 2021).

The current target, set by the Department of Health in their tobacco control plan for England, is to reduce the prevalence of smoking during pregnancy to 6% or less by the end of 2022. If the 6% target is to be met, the rate of decline will have to increase considerably over the next year. 

A new tobacco control plan was set to be published in November 2021, but has been delayed. 


About this data

This indicator uses data from NHS Digital's statistics on women's smoking status at the time of delivery in England. The percentage calculation for women who were known to be smokers at time of delivery previously included women with an unknown smoking status in the denominator, i.e. the total number of maternities. This meant that women with an unknown smoking status were being treated the same way as non-smokers. Thus, poor data quality (i.e. having a lot of unknowns) could have masked poor performance.

From April 2017, the methodology used to calculate the proportion of women smoking at the time of delivery changed to exclude women with an unknown smoking status from the denominator. Therefore, the percentage calculation for smokers/non-smokers excludes women with an unknown smoking status. Data for all years was recalculated to use this new definition.

Percentage of mothers smoking at the time of delivery (excluding unknowns) = 100 x number of mothers recorded as smoking at time of delivery / (number of mothers recorded as smoking at time of delivery + number of mothers recorded as not smoking at time of delivery).

Women known to be smokers at the time of delivery are defined as pregnant women who reported smoking (at all) at the time of delivery. Women known to be non-smokers at the time of delivery are defined as pregnant women who reported smoking no cigarettes (at all) at the time of delivery. Women whose smoking status was not known at the time of delivery are defined as those whose smoking status was not determined at the time of delivery for whatever reason. 

Data for 2021/22 is provisional and only covers the first two quarters of 2021/22 (April 2021–September 2021). For more information, please see NHS Digital's appendices and data quality statement.

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