Will Quince MP: Smoking while pregnant is number one modifiable risk factor for stillbirth

Posted On: 
21st March 2017

Conservative MP Will Quince says it is not “unreasonable” to require tobacco companies to warn pregnant women against consuming their products.

This week in Parliament, I have an adjournment debate on Public Health Guidance and Baby Loss. Why? Because there is one significant risk factor for stillbirth that remains one of the toughest to eliminate and as a result, carries the greatest reward if we can address it.

That risk? Smoking in pregnancy.

This isn’t about criticising or demonising women and their partners who smoke during pregnancy. We all recognise that tobacco is highly addictive and it can be difficult to stop smoking.

However, smoking while pregnant is the number one modifiable risk factor for stillbirth.

If every pregnancy was smoke free tomorrow, we would see 5,000 fewer miscarriages. 300 fewer perinatal deaths. 2,200 fewer premature births each year. If children were not exposed to second hand smoke, the number of sudden infant deaths could be reduced by over 30%.

The last Government’s Tobacco Control Plan set targets for reducing smoking in pregnancy rates. Progress has been made - in 2015/16, the number of women smoking at the time of delivery had fallen to 10.6%.

This is below the Government’s target of 11%. Yet whilst nationally the Government’s target has been met, it masks wide geographical variations. Yes, we are seeing rates of 2% in Richmond or 2.2% in Wokingham, yet smoking in pregnancy rates are 26.6% in Blackpool, 24.4% in South Tyneside and 24.1% in North East Lincolnshire.

The last Tobacco Control Plan for England expired at the end of 2015. The Government has promised a new one will be published ‘shortly’. The publication of this strategy is now a matter of urgency and it also needs to include ambitious targets for reducing smoking in pregnancy.

I know that this is something which the Department of Health is sympathetic to and hope it will be included in the new Tobacco Control Plan.

Further, alcohol bought in the UK carries a warning sign making clear that pregnant women shouldn’t consume this product. Yet only 1 in 6 packets of cigarettes carries a warning about the danger of smoking whilst pregnant.

I do not believe it unreasonable or unrealistic for all tobacco products to carry a similar warning to that seen on alcohol, and want to Government to look into the feasibility of introducing this.

As I have said, this debate is absolutely not about criticising or demonising women and their partners who smoke during pregnancy. But we also know that parents to be want to give their baby the best possible start in life.

I want a message to go out loud and clear that no matter what stage you're at in your pregnancy, it's never too late to stop smoking. Yes, it can be difficult, but smoking is much more harmful to your baby than any stress quitting may bring.

And most importantly, the Government will give you the support and tools to help you to quit.