More than 500 Sunderland mums smoked during pregnancy, new health figures released today reveal.
Statistics released by the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) show that, for 2015/16, there were 505 women who smoked during pregnancy out of 2,805 births.
That figure works out at 18% - higher than both the north east average of 16% and the national average of 10.6%.
In neighbouring South Tyneside the figure was 21.8% - the third highest rate in England, behind Blackpool (26%) and North East Lincolnshire (23.5%).
Elsewhere in the north east, Newcastle and Gateshead and North Tyneside had 13.2% rates.
In the previous 12 months, the rate of pregnant smokers in Sunderland had stood at 19.4%.
Portfolio Holder for Public Health, Wellness and Culture, Councillor John Kelly said: "While the decrease in the number of pregnant women who smoke in Sunderland is encouraging, there is still much work to be done to lower the numbers still further.
"We are currently working with our local maternity service to encourage even more pregnant women to quit, and have a number of community led public health initiatives in place across Sunderland to help reduce the rate.
"Key to this is promoting health messages about the risks to both baby and mother, and providing the type of help and support people need to give up cigarettes. Our partners at Public Health England will be running a campaign in the summer to promote the importance of not smoking in pregnancy.
"Smoking during pregnancy can cause serious pregnancy-related health problems, these include complications during labour and an increased risk of miscarriage, premature birth, still birth, low birth-weight and sudden unexpected death in infancy.”
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."