Premature baby numbers plunge after smoking ban

THE introduction of the smoking ban has been linked to a dramatic reduction in the number of premature and low birthweight babies in Scotland.

A study by academics at Glasgow University has revealed that the number of mothers-to-be who smoked dropped from 25.4 per cent of pregnant women to 18.8 per cent following the launch of the ban in March 2006.

Meanwhile, the number of overall pre-term deliveries – babies born before 37 weeks gestation – fell by 10 per cent over the same period, while there was also a 5 per cent drop in the number of infants born small for gestational size, and a drop of 8 per cent of the number of babies born “very small” for gestational size.

Smoking during pregnancy is linked to conditions including low birthweight, very pre-term birth and death of the baby shortly before or after birth.

Led by Professor Jill Pell of the university’s Institute of Health and Wellbeing, the research team looked at statistics for pre-term delivery and gestational age in 716,941 single-baby births before and after the introduction of the smoking legislation on 26 March 2006. The reductions occurred both in mothers who smoked and those who had never smoked.

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“The potential for tobacco control legislation to have a positive effect on health is becoming increasingly clear,” said Dr Pell.

“These findings add to the growing evidence of the wide-ranging health benefits of smoke-free legislation and support the adoption of such legislation in other countries which have yet to implement smoking bans.”

She added: “While survival rates for pre-term deliveries have improved over the years, infants are still at risk of developing long-term health problems so any intervention that can reduce the risk of pre-term delivery has the potential to produce important public health benefits.”

The study also compared the effect in Scotland to those in Italy – where the proportion of women who quit smoking was deemed not to be statistically significant – and Ireland, where the number of pregnant smokers slumped by 12 per cent post-smoking ban.

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Dr Beckie Lang, health campaigns manager for pregnancy research charity Tommy’s, welcomed the research, said: “Smokers should be encouraged to give up smoking as soon as possible to increase their chances of having a healthy baby, so it’s good to see that the ban appears to contributing to this.

“It’s never too late to give up, and giving up at any time during pregnancy will help give your baby the best start in life.”

Sheila Duffy, chief executive of anti-tobacco charity ASH Scotland said: “This is one more addition to a growing body of evidence which demonstrates that Scotland’s strategic and comprehensive approach to tobacco control is actively improving the health and lives of our nation.”

The researchers looked at data for babies born between January 1996 and December 2009, extracted from the Scottish Morbidity Record, which collected information on all women discharged from Scottish maternity hospitals – including maternal and infant characteristics, obstetric history, clinical management and pregnancy complications. The data also allowed socioeconomic factors to be incorporated.

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A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: “We welcome this evidence of the beneficial impact Scotland’s smoke-free legislation has had on mothers and the health of their babies.

“To stop smoking is the single biggest step anyone can take to improve their health and it is widely accepted that smoking during pregnancy is harmful to both mother and baby.”