Nearly one in three pregnant Wanganui women coming through the city's maternity department is a daily smoker, the Whanganui District Health Board has revealed.
Board director of Maori health Gilbert Taurua said the number of smokers who entered the hospital's maternity department was "relatively high".
Thirty-two per cent of women identified as smokers, "which is quite scary".
Up to 50 per cent of Maori, 40 per cent of Pacific and 22 per cent of "other" women were smokers.
"That reflects our high Maori population. About half the births are Maori in our community, although we only make up 25 per cent of the population.
"We definitely have a blip with young Maori women, which is quite concerning. I think that we need to be trying to nail them earlier with the antenatal education, because at the moment the national target for antenatal education sits at 30 per cent."
Mr Taurua said that figure needed to be higher.
A recent consultation meeting with the Maori community at the regional women's health service was "concerning", Mr Taurua said. "There was one woman who suggested that Maori women are smoking so that their babies are smaller - so in turn easier to produce, shall we say. Obviously tobacco does impact on the birth weight of the baby and also does contribute to some catastrophic or severe delivery procedures.
"We do have high deprivation in Wanganui and also have a high rural population - those two factors I believe do contribute to the widening of the health disparity and we see that across a whole range of things, including suicide."
But the hospital had seen some success in patients' attempts to quit smoking when a GP was involved. "When somebody's able to work proactively with private practice their likelihood of giving up smoking is higher."
There was greater general awareness nowadays about the detrimental effects of smoking, Mr Taurua said.
Mounting social pressure and tax hikes have had a huge impact on numbers wanting to quit smoking nationwide.
About 70,000 fewer adults smoke tobacco daily now than three years ago, according to Ministry of Health figures.
The progress in reducing smoking rates is largely the result of education campaigns, advertising restrictions, tax hikes and health warnings.
Quitline spokeswoman Jane MacPherson said whenever tax increases took effect, the helpline had more calls. "They can literally save thousands of dollars a year if they quit." APNZ