PREGNANT women in East Lancashire are ignoring pleas to quit cigarettes and help the health of their unborn babies, health experts say.

Disappointing numbers of smokers are taking part in smoking cessation services across the region, NHS East Lancashire officials have said.

Health bosses are also struggling with encouraging members of the ethnic minority and black communities to ditch the habit, and the take-up in Accrington, Great Harwood and Rishton has also failed to meet expectations.

Chemicals from cigarettes are transmitted from pregnant mums to their unborn children. The development of the foetus is affected and babies can suffer nictotine withdrawal after birth.

Primary care experts have been running a media campaign, My Way, backed by trust chairman Kathy Reade, herself an ex-smoker.

But the NHS trust is struggling to meet a target of 3,530 smokers quitting at the end of a four-week programme.

The stop smoking service was switched from NHS East Lancashire’s commissioning arm to headquarter’s control when it became apparent targets were not going to be met. A new tender, from health providers across Europe, was also sought but no organisations came forward.

Jon Tomlinson, the trust’s strategic commissioning director, said: “It is unlikely we will meet the target. We have already lost too much ground earlier in the year.”

Chief executive Steve Spoerry told board members it was hoped a contract would created to provide smoking cessation across the whole county, either this year or next.

He said only two trusts in the North West were on course to meet tough new smoking targets.