Pregnant women could be given £400 in shopping vouchers to quit smoking

25 June 2021, 01:04

File photo showing a pregnant woman holding a burning cigarette in her hand
File photo showing a pregnant woman holding a burning cigarette in her hand. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Pregnant women in England could be offered £400 in shopping vouchers to help them quit smoking under new NHS guidance.

Evidence shows that giving financial incentives to help expectant women give up the habit is "both effective and cost-effective", according to Public Health England (PHE) and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice).

The measure is already in place in some regions and the guidance - which is open to consultation - said studies revealed that "voucher incentives were acceptable to many pregnant women and healthcare providers".

Before being given the coupons, experts said those involved should have to take biochemical tests to prove they have quit smoking.

However, they added that if testing is made too difficult because of Covid, the vouchers should be given regardless.

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The guidance, which commences when women are referred to an NHS Stop Smoking Service or those run by bodies such as councils, public health teams and charities, said: "Evidence from the UK showed that schemes in which a maximum of around £400 could be gained in vouchers staggered over time (with reductions for each relapse made) were effective and cost-effective."

For every 1,000 pregnant women offered the coupons, 177 would stop smoking, research suggested.

The new guidance also said healthcare staff should provide clear and up-to-date information on e-cigarettes to people who are interested in using them to stop smoking. However, they should still stress the long-term health effects of the devices are still uncertain.

It argued that nicotine-containing e-cigarettes have been shown to help people quit and are similarly effective to other interventions such as nicotine replacement therapy.

Nicotine e-cigarettes are not currently available on the NHS.

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File photo showing a pregnant woman holding a cigarette
File photo showing a pregnant woman holding a cigarette. Picture: PA

Dr Paul Chrisp, director of Nice's centre for guidelines, said: "These draft guideline recommendations are a renewed effort to reduce the health burden of smoking and to encourage and support people to give up smoking.

"Smoking continues to take a huge toll on the health of the nation and accounts for approximately half the difference in life expectancy between the richest and poorest in society. It is therefore vitally important that we reduce the level of smoking in this country.

"We know that around 10 per cent of women are known to be smokers at the time of giving birth and, given the significant health effects of smoking on both mothers and babies, it is clear that further efforts are required to encourage this group to give up smoking.

"We need to use every tool in our arsenal to reduce smoking rates, including education, behavioural support, financial incentives, and e-cigarettes if people are interested in using them.

"Combined, we hope that people who smoke will feel enabled to give up tobacco products once and for all."

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Dr Jamie Hartmann-Boyce, senior research fellow in health behaviours at the University of Oxford, welcomed the guidance, adding: "A growing body of evidence suggests that e-cigarettes are considerably less harmful than smoking - though not risk-free - and can help people quit smoking.

"Evidence supports providing vouchers to help pregnant people quit smoking, and it is great to see this in the new draft guidance.

"Studies of this type of programme show that people remained smoke-free even after the vouchers or other types of rewards finished.

"Evidence shows these programmes also work outside of pregnancy. It would be positive to see them used across a range of contexts."