The North-South divide in the smoking habits of pregnant women was revealed yesterday as official figures showed new mothers in the North-east of England were three times more likely to smoke than those in London.

One in five women in the North-east classed themselves as smokers when they gave birth, compared with just 6 per cent in London. But the highest smoking rate was in Blackpool, where 30 per cent of pregnant women classed themselves as smokers at the time of giving birth.

The lowest smoking rate was in Brent, north-west London, where just 2.8 per cent of pregnant women classed themselves as smokers.

Smoking rates were higher in every northern strategic health authority, compared with those in the south. The data, published by the NHS Information Centre covering 167,300 pregnancies during the last three months of 2011, showed that the overall figure for England was 13.4 per cent, down from 15 per cent in 2006-07.

However, this suggests that the Government is unlikely to hit its target to reduce the number of women smoking at the time of giving birth to 11 per cent by the end of 2015.