Almost half of pregnant Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in the Illawarra and Shoalhaven smoke, according to a national report.
The National Health Performance Authority report released on Thursday is the first in Australia to break down smoking during pregnancy by local area.
It showed that during 2007 to 2011, the percentage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women who gave birth and smoked during pregnancy varied across the country - from 29.4 per cent (North Western Melbourne) to 66.4 per cent (Victoria's Goulburn Valley).
The Illawarra Shoalhaven figure was 46.9 per cent.
Janet Jackson, the co-ordinator of a quit smoking support program developed for pregnant Aboriginal women and their families in the area, was not surprised by the figures.
Ms Jackson said the region was the first to deliver the Quit for New Life program, which was now being taken up by other health districts across the nation.
"The aim of the program, delivered by the region's Aboriginal Maternal Health Service, is to work with pregnant Aboriginal women and their family members to help them quit smoking.
"They are given advice, information and support and are also provided with nicotine replacement therapy and other quit smoking aids."
Ms Jackson said smoking while pregnant increased the risk of complications during pregnancy for both the mother and the baby.
"Women often think about their health more when they are pregnant and are more likely to be receptive to the idea of quitting smoking," she said.
"The program, which is ongoing, has been successful with some women quitting smoking altogether and many others changing their behaviours - such as smoking outside - and cutting back on the number of cigarettes they smoke," Ms Jackson said.
This week's report showed that the overall levels of smoking for the nation's expectant mothers were lower - with 13 per cent of pregnant women smoking. The figure for Illawarra Shoalhaven women was just slightly higher, at 14 per cent.
The NHPA report - which collected data from 61 Medicare Local areas across Australia - also broke down by region figures for infant and young child mortality, antenatal visits and low-birthweight babies.
During 2010-12, the infant and young child mortality rate ranged from 2.6 deaths per 1000 live births in Bayside, Victoria, to 9.2 deaths per 1000 live births in the Northern Territory. In the Illawarra Shoalhaven there were 4.3 deaths per 1000 live births with an average of 20 deaths per year.
Alcohol causing more deaths than ever
Boozy advertising must be reduced, and alcoholic drinks made more expensive and less available if Australians are to curb their addiction to the drink, according to a University of Wollongong researcher.
A report, released on Thursday by drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre Turning Point, found alcohol caused 15 deaths and hospitalised 430 Australians every day.
It also found 5554 deaths and 157,132 hospitalisations were caused by alcohol in 2010.
The number of deaths increased by 62 per cent since the study was last undertaken a decade ago.
UOW Alcohol and behaviour change researcher Lance Barrie said the report showed regular alcohol consumption at low levels could lead to serious chronic illness.
‘‘Even by drinking low amounts of alcohol over a longer period of time – this might be 20 or 30 years – it does increase your chances of getting chronic conditions like getting cardiovascular disease and cancer,’’ he said.
‘‘The study shows that alcohol is responsible for thousands of deaths each year.
‘‘There is now clear evidence to show that measures need to be put in place to tackle this problem.
‘‘It is now up to decision makers to act on this evidence.”
Mr Barrie said expanding measures that had been introduced to reduce alcohol fuelled violence in Sydney’s CBD across the state would go a long way to reducing alcohol related injury.
‘‘If closing times are made earlier then there are fewer alcohol-related assaults,’’ he said.
- DOMINIC GEIGER