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About 40 percent of pregnant women who smoked before becoming pregnant continued to do so during pregnancy, according to the results of a survey by a Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry research group obtained by Kyodo News on Sunday.

The survey showed that most pregnant women who continued to smoke knew of the harmful affect of smoking on the fetus.

The ministry says it takes the results of the survey seriously and will conduct a more comprehensive survey on pregnancy and smoking during the current fiscal year.

The survey, conducted between last December and February this year at four large-scale medical institutions in northeastern, central and southwestern Japan, asked 1,473 pregnant women about whether they smoke and whether they are exposed to secondhand smoke.

Among the women questioned, 317, or 21.6 percent, smoked before becoming pregnant, with 123 women, or 38.8 percent of the 317, continuing to smoke during pregnancy, according to the survey.

The survey also showed that 63.6 percent of those surveyed said there are people who smoke around them on a daily basis, indicating that more than half of the respondents are inhaling secondhand smoke.

Research in both Japan and abroad indicates that the danger of miscarriage or giving birth to premature babies increases by around 1.5 times for smokers over nonsmokers.

Among the 123 women who said they continued to smoke even after becoming pregnant, 113 said they knew of the harmful affect on the fetus. And 116 women who continued to smoke said they either wanted to quit or cut down but had been unable to do so.

Takashi Oida, head of the Department of Administration at the National Institute of Public Health in Tokyo and the main researcher for the survey, said, “There were more people than expected who did not quit smoking despite becoming pregnant.

“There was also a high percentage of people receiving secondhand smoke, and the understanding of people at home and at work is necessary to protect the fetus.”

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