I can’t help but sneer at ciggy-smoking mums-to-be, writes Ellen Widdup as she prepared for baby number three

Should the state step in when expectant mother's refuse to stop smoking?

Should the state step in when expectant mother's refuse to stop smoking?

About 13 years ago, a man saw his pregnant girlfriend smoking at her sister’s 40th birthday party and saw red.

An alleged scuffle later and - because the man was Ken Livingstone, mayor of London - the incident made front-page news.

Some people thought his reaction a little unfair – after all his other half was “trying to quit”.

Others however thought she – like any other mum-to-be who dares take a puff while displaying a bump – should have been prepared to swallow a dose of vitriol with it.

I bet you think you already know which camp I fall into, don’t you?

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After all, I have made my feelings on parental choice quite clear in the past few weeks.

I have attacked the presumption that all women enjoy breastfeeding, I’ve championed a woman’s right to opt for drugs during labour and I have questioned the list of foodstuffs we are supposed to avoid while “with child”.

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Hell, I’ve even suggested having the odd slurp of Guinness while pregnant should not be vilified quite so strongly (even if my ongoing nausea has prevented me from partaking).

But here’s the thing…

While doctors are clear that heavy drinking is dangerous for a foetus, they don’t have any evidence to suggest that the odd tipple causes any problems.

They do, however, unequivocally believe that smoking (whether it is one or 30 a day) is harmful to both mother and child.

Perhaps this is why celebrities who have been caught smoking during pregnancy, have had their unhealthy habit branded tantamount to child abuse as a result.

So where do I stand?

Well actually it’s trickier than a simple for or against.

The short answer is that I think any woman who takes that sort of gamble with the health of their unborn child should be ashamed.

After all, smoking increases the risks of miscarriage, premature birth, having a small baby, childhood illness and cot death.

But I also understand that there are certain implications surrounding the idea of taking away their choice.

And this is something our Government has been battling with too.

Like me, they think it cruel to subject another human being to a stream of toxic gas from which he or she cannot escape.

But they can’t work out yet if this should apply only to living, breathing individuals or embryos surviving via an umbilical cord too.

Of course smoking was banned from enclosed public places in 2007.

And from October, motorists and passengers in England and Wales will be prosecuted if they smoke in a vehicle carrying a person under 18.

But even these shifts have caused some public outrage.

It would be easy to dismiss the critics as uneducated or just plain stupid (indeed many are).

After all, almost 90,000 children have been spared illness by the original smoking ban with 11,000 fewer a year admitted to hospital with lung infections since the law was introduced.

But others are questioning if taking away certain rights might lead deep into the murky waters of a Big Brother nation, setting dangerous precedents that should make anyone with a uterus feel very afraid.

Many argue that as long as pregnant women have all the information they need - that they know smoking is bad for their baby - then it is their right to do what they feel comfortable with.

I know that when I’ve been pregnant, I’ve always felt my unborn child was not public property and my decisions on how to parent were mine to make.

I am also concerned that too much interference – patronising, critical opinions and extreme monitoring of the Nanny State – could, if let loose, lead to a society that decides who should and shouldn’t be allowed to conceive in the first place.

But the thing is, try as I might not to judge, I can’t help but sneer at ciggy-smoking mums-to-be.

And there are a lot of them – one in four of all pregnant women in the UK if recent statistics are to be believed.

Now, before anyone decides to step up here with a “You don’t know how hard it is to quit” comment, I need to point out that I was a smoker for more than a decade.

Not just a social smoker either.

A full on, loved-every-minute-of-it, nicotine addict.

I am only too aware that cigarettes are bad practice at the best of times — and at the worst of times they’re an evil, embarrassing, ugly, all-consuming obsession.

So how did I manage to ditch the habit?

To stop the 20-a-day dependency that ruled my life?


A thin blue line appeared on a white test stick. I didn’t cut down, phase out, stick patches all over my arms, inhale on a plastic stick or chew gum.

I just quit.

Cold turkey. Then and there.

I’m not pretending it was easy and the cravings vanished in the wave of my own self-righteousness. But I was out of excuses.

As far as I was concerned it was no longer just my body. It was my baby’s too.

Whatever culture of entitlement we live in, I couldn’t justify why my own desires should take precedent over someone who couldn’t speak up for herself.

It may never become a criminal offence to smoke while pregnant, even with this latest legislation banning the habit in cars containing kids.

And I’m not convinced that it should be either.

But even if it never does become law, in my opinion, expectant mothers who know the risks but choose to smoke anyway, will always be guilty of supreme selfishness.

• Agree or disagree? Email Ellen or tweet her

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