Pregnant women smoking rates fall
Smoking rates among pregnant women have dropped by a third over the past decade, according to a new cross-border report.
The study, north and south of the border, also revealed that fewer children are smoking.
It warned that those from disadvantaged backgrounds remain at a greater risk of taking up the habit.
Dr Helen McAvoy of the Institute of Public Health, which published the report, said while the findings regarding smoking during pregnancy were encouraging, children continue to experiment with cigarettes.
"Children are still trying their first cigarette at a very young age and their stage of development makes them uniquely susceptible to tobacco marketing and branding," Dr McAvoy said.
"However, there are signs of improvement. The proportion of children in the Republic of Ireland who reported trying their first cigarette aged 13 or younger has fallen over time."
According to the findings, 15% of expectant mothers in Northern Ireland smoked during their pregnancy in 2010, compared with 23% in 2000.
Around 18% of expectant mothers in the Republic of Ireland admitted to smoking in 2008, compared with 28% in 1998.
The report, which was co-published by Tobacco Free Research Institute Ireland (TFRI), also revealed that the proportion of 10 to 17-year-olds admitting to having smoked in the Republic dropped from 36% in 2006 to 27% in 2010.
Research in Northern Ireland found the proportion of 11 to 16-year-olds having tried smoking dropped from 24% in 2007 to 19% in 2010.
Dr McAvoy said youngsters from less privileged backgrounds were more likely to try smoking due to a greater exposure to second-hand smoke.
"The burden of harm associated with smoking falls heavily on the most disadvantaged children," Dr McAvoy said.
"This is true in terms of their likelihood of exposure in the womb as well as to second-hand smoke in the home and ultimately to their own risk of taking up smoking at a young age.
"In the most deprived areas of Northern Ireland, mothers were three times more likely to smoke during pregnancy than in the least deprived areas. Nine-year-old children in the Republic of Ireland living in the lowest income families were twice as likely to be exposed to second-hand smoke in the home as children in the highest income families."
The report, entitled A Tobacco-Free Future, found that around one in six nine-year-old children in the Republic live in a home where people smoke in the same room as them.
And around one in seven 13 to 14-year-olds reported that someone smokes in the car while they are present.
Professor Luke Clancy from the TFRI said parental smoking behaviours are a "significant" factor in the health and development of children all over the island of Ireland.
"Smoking in pregnancy was associated with adverse outcomes for newborn babies including low birth weight," Prof Clancy said.
"GP attendances for chest and ear infections among infants were higher among mothers who smoked in the first nine months of their child's life. Among older children, both active smoking and second-hand smoke were significant in terms of patterns of childhood asthma."
Health ministers north and south of the border - Edwin Poots and James Reilly respectively - have welcomed the report.
Both governments have pledged to drive down smoking rates across the island with efforts to restrict access to tobacco products and reduce their appeal to young people.
Last week, Dr Reilly pushed ahead plans to introduce standardised packaging of tobacco products.
New laws in the Republic will see large graphic images and health warnings dominate packets of cigarettes, which the Government hopes will make it harder for manufacturers to promote their brand.
Ireland became the first country to stop smoking in bars and restaurants with the workplace smoking ban in 2004.
A similar ban was later introduced in the north in 2007.