Background: Over the last few years a decreasing trend in smoking has occurred not only in the general population but also during pregnancy. Several countries have implemented laws requiring all enclosed workplace and public places to be free of second hand smoke (SHS). In Spain, legislation to reduce SHS was implemented in 2005. The present study examines the possible effect of this legislation on prenatal SHS exposure.Methods: Mothers and newborns were recruited from 3 independent studies performed in Hospital del Mar (Barcelona) and approved by the local Ethics Committee: 415 participated in a study in 1996-1998, 283 in 2002-2004 and 207 in 2008. A standard questionnaire, including neonatal and sociodemographic variables,tobacco use and exposure during pregnancy, was completed at delivery for all the participants in the three study groups. Fetal exposure to tobacco was studied by measuring cotinine in cord blood by radioimmunoassay (RIA).Results: 32.8% of the pregnant women reported to smoke during pregnancy in 1996-1998, 25.9% in 2002-2004 and 34.1% in 2008. In the most recent group, the percentage of no prenatal SHS exposure (cord blood cotinine 0.2-1 ng/mL) showed an increase compared to the previous groups while the percentages of both: low (1.1-14 ng/mL) and very high (> 100 ng/mL) prenatal SHS exposure showed a decrease.Discussion: The results of the three study periods (1996-2008) demonstrated a significant increase in the percentage of newborns free from SHS exposure and a decrease in the percentage of newborns exposed to SHS during pregnancy, especially at the very high levels of exposure. A significant maternal smoking habit was noted in this geographical area with particular emphasis on immigrant pregnant smoking women.Conclusions: Our study indicates that there is a significant maternal smoking habit in this geographical area. Our recommendation is that campaigns against smoking should be directed more specifically towards pregnant women with particular emphasis on non-native pregnant smokers due to the highest prevalence of tobacco consumption in the immigrant women. © 2012 Puig et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.