A JOINT effort is being launched to persuade East Lancashire and Chorley mothers to ditch smoking during pregnancy.

Lancashire County Council health cabinet member Azhar Ali is being asked to endorse a £223,000 investment in a multi-agency initiative designed to combat the problem.

Last month it was revealed that the rate of mothers who continue to smoke pregnancy locally was 19.7 per cent, against a national average of 12.7 per cent.

New evidence has now shown that the number of low birthweights, a common side-effect of smoking-affected maternity cases, is also higher than the all-England rate in at least four East Lancashire boroughs and Chorley.

For 2012-13 there were 560 cases across the five areas – accounting for 9.8 per cent of all births in Hyndburn and Pendle, 9.3 in Chorley and 8.8 in Burnley, opposed to a national score of 7.3.

Other side-effects from smoking include increasing the risk of ectopic pregnancy, miscarriage and still-births, alongside an increased risk of asthma, ADHD, cleft palates and learning difficulties.

Dr Sakthi Karunanithi, Lancashire’s public health director, has told councillors there are ‘significant variances’ currently in delivering smoking in pregnancy programmes.

He wants to ensure all mothers are offered ‘effective support’ to reduce the number of cigarettes consumed or quit for good.

Dr Karunanithi said in an executive report: “It is estimated that around one in five babies that are admitted to a neonatal unit are there primarily as a result of smoking during pregnancy, which equates to 224 low birthweight babies in Lancashire each year.”

An average £12,500 is spent on such premature births, compared to around £1,000 for a ‘normal’ delivery, councillors have heard, which is believed to cost the county an additional £2.8million per year.

The plans would be taken forward by public health teams, hospital maternity services, countywide clinical commissioning groups, stop smoking experts and community and voluntary groups would be asked to contribute.

Proposals will also be discussed by the county council’s cabinet on Thursday.