By Andrew Topping, Local Democracy Reporter
Health experts are trying to dramatically reduce the number of Nottinghamshire women smoking while they are pregnant.
The county’s director of public health says reducing smoking during pregnancy in the area has been a “longstanding challenge”.
But new strategies brought in a year ago are showing signs of progress, a council meeting heard on Monday (December 12).
Figures published earlier this year showed 14 per cent of adults in the county smoke, which is marginally above the 13.9 per cent England average.
But rates vary across the county, with the rate rising to 19.8 per cent in Mansfield and 18.8 per cent in Ashfield but falling to 5.9 per cent in Rushcliffe.
There is also a higher-than-average smoking rate for pregnant women in parts of the county.
In Mansfield, 19.2 per cent of pregnant women smoke – more than double the England average of 9.1 per cent.
The rate is slightly lower in neighbouring Ashfield, at 17.1 per cent.
Both figures led to Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs King’s Mill Hospital, taking fresh action.
In December last year, the trust set up its Phoenix Team – which includes a maternity tobacco dependency treatment aimed at supporting mothers trying to quit.
The trust says the average cost of treating women who smoke during pregnancy is double that of a non-smoker due to the interventions required.
And, as well as supporting the long-term health of the mums, the trust adds it prevents the risk of miscarriages, stillbirths, premature births, low birth weights, heart defects and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
In October, it confirmed the first women to begin using the new service had seen results and had stopped using nicotine products.
Claire Allison, the trust’s tobacco-dependency maternity lead, said: “It can be difficult to stop smoking, but it’s never too late to quit.
“Stopping smoking will help the family and the baby immediately, reducing the effects of harmful gases, such as carbon monoxide, and other damaging chemicals.
“We recognise smoking in pregnancy is the result of addiction to nicotine, which requires treatment. Our support is tailored to each individual.”
The Phoenix Team’s free support includes providing a carbon monoxide monitor to give an “incentive” to mums to continue their treatment.
They are also provided with an app to show how much money they are saving, while trained advisors offer guidance and advice to mums.
People can either be referred to the service by a midwife or doctor or refer themselves if they want help with quitting.
And Jonathan Gribbin, public health director for Nottinghamshire, says the work at the trust has been vital in bringing down smoking rates.
He said: “It’s enormously important, both to the women and to their newborn baby, and that is something over which the county council has some influence.
“This is to the extent that we work very closely with our NHS colleagues to make sure there’s a really strong offer of stop smoking support to women who are on maternity pathways.
“There’s a lot of work going on at the moment around Sherwood Forest Hospitals, in particular.”
His comments came as the county council’s public health scrutiny committee discussed healthy lifestyles and life expectancy rates at a meeting on Monday (December 12).
The meeting heard women in the county spend the final 21 years of their lives in some form of ill health and live for about 82.5 years on average.
For men, the final 16 years of their lives are spent in ill health, though there is a lower life expectancy of 79.4 years.
Part of this has been attributed to poor health outcomes including higher-than-average smoking rates.
Mr Gribbin added: “For women, in particular, the one that has been a longstanding challenge for us is smoking at the time of [baby] delivery.”
The authority confirmed in June it aims to get to a point where less than five per cent of the local population smokes.
Smoking is estimated to kill 1,124 people in Nottinghamshire and about 1,000 young people take up the habit in the county each year.
In the meeting, Cllr Paul Henshaw (Lab), who represents Mansfield West, said: “Quite rightly there is the issue of getting people to stop smoking, which is one of the major causes of ill health.
“It’s something that we’ve got to keep on top of forever.”