Aim: To examine the relationship between income and levels of smoking in women of child-bearing age.
Methods: Census area units within the Christchurch region were divided into five groups according to average income for each of the census years 1976, 1981 and 1991 respectively. Smoking rates were obtained from census data for 1976 and 1981. For 1992, data from a questionnaire on smoking during pregnancy and obstetric records were used.
Results: For all years, higher proportions of women from low income groups smoked. The overall percentage of female smokers in Canterbury fell slightly from 31.6% in 1976 to 27.5% in 1981. There were 27.1% of pregnant women smoking in 1992. There were marked changes by economic groups. The percentage of smokers in the highest income group fell from 24.8% in 1976 to 21.0% in 1981: an 18% fall. Smokers in the lowest income group increased from 36.8% in 1976 to 39.8% in 1981. The same patterns were seen for smoking in pregnancy in the 1992 data.
Conclusion: While the downward trend for smokers in the high income groups is good news, it is of concern that the proportion of smokers in the lower income groups remains so high. Young women have the highest rates of smoking, which is of special concern when they become pregnant. Smokefree intervention programmes need to be specifically targeted at these groups.