£400 bribes really DO help pregnant women stop smoking

£400 bribes really DO help pregnant women stop smoking: Mothers-to-be given vouchers are TWICE as likely to give up, study finds

  • Experts say financial incentives were ‘highly effective’ in helping women stop
  • The UK-wide study, led by University of Glasgow, included almost 1,000 women 
  • Women who smoke in pregnancy put their babies at increased risk of respiratory infections, infant death and low birth rate 

Pregnant women given up to £400 in high street shopping vouchers were twice as likely to quit smoking, a landmark study has found.

Experts say the financial incentives were ‘highly effective’ in helping women stop smoking during pregnancy.

The UK-wide study, led by the University of Glasgow, included almost 1,000 women.

Women who smoke in pregnancy put their babies at an increased risk of respiratory infections, infant death and low birth rate.

All of the women on the trial were given standard NHS stop-smoking services and half were also offered up to £400 in high street Love2Shop vouchers if they quit.

Experts say the financial incentives were ‘highly effective’ in helping women stop smoking during pregnancy

The vouchers can be spent in thousands of high street stores.

They women recruited to the trial were given £50 in vouchers for setting a quit date, another £50 if they had not smoked for four weeks, a further £100 if they had still quit after three months and £200 if they continued to have quit in late pregnancy.

They were regularly checked to see if they had stopped smoking, through nicotine saliva testing.

The study found 26.8 per cent of pregnant women from the group with the vouchers quit smoking by the end of their pregnancy, but just 12.3 per cent of pregnant women from the other group stopped – half the rate of those who had been offered the vouchers.

Professor David Tappin, lead author of the study from the University of Glasgow, said: ‘Through this study, we have shown that the offer of high street vouchers, when offered in tandem with the current UK Stop Smoking Services, is highly effective at more than doubling smoking cessation during pregnancy, with a reduction in NHS costs over the long term.

‘Pregnant smokers are usually on low incomes.

‘Stopping smoking saves £70-£100 per week by not buying cigarettes.

‘We hope our findings will enable services to increase smoking cessation during pregnancy.’

The nationwide study was led by the University of Glasgow in collaboration with the University of Edinburgh, Queen’s University Belfast, and the Universities of Stirling and York.

It took place at seven different sites across the UK — in Scotland, England and Northern Ireland.

Most of the pregnant women who quit from both groups relapsed after their baby was born, the researchers found.

But the study is ongoing to extend support, with financial voucher incentives, for 12 months after the baby is born to see if mothers are more likely to remain non-smokers.

It is not yet known if the move will be included as part of NHS pregnancy services.

Professor Linda Bauld, joint principal investigator for the study from the University of Edinburgh, said: ‘Most women who smoke in pregnancy in the UK are from lower income groups, who will be most affected by the cost-of-living crisis, and these vouchers will have helped them both make a quit attempt and stay smoke-free through pregnancy.

‘This kind of intervention is about prevention, spending up front to avoid much more serious and costly health problems for the baby and the mum if she continues to smoke.’

Smoking during pregnancy is responsible for significant ill health and death among women and their children, including 7 per cent of childhood hospital admissions for respiratory infection, 20 per cent of infant deaths and 30 per cent of babies born underweight.

The number of women who smoke in pregnancy has been declining in countries, including the UK, in recent years.

In the UK between 2007 and 2022, smoking among pregnant women declined from 16 per cent to 9.1 per cent. In the US, five per cent of new mothers in 2020 said they smoked during pregnancy.

The study is published in the British Medical Journal.

WHAT ARE THE DANGERS OF SMOKING WHILE PREGNANT? 

Cigarettes can restrict the essential oxygen supply to the baby. As a result, their heart has to beat harder every time the mother smokes

Dangers include: 

Increased risk of complications in pregnancy and birth

Less likely to have a healthier pregnancy and a healthier baby

Increased risk of stillbirth

Baby more likely to be born too early and have to face the additional breathing, feeding and health problems that often go with being premature.  

Baby more likely to be born underweight: babies of women who smoke are, on average about 8oz lighter than other babies. This means they’re more likely to struggle keeping warm and are more prone to infection

Increased risk of cot death

Each year, smoking during pregnancy in the UK causes an estimated:

2,200 premature births

5,000 miscarriages

300 stillbirths 

Source: NHS

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