Pregnant women may be offered shopping vouchers worth hundreds of pounds as an incentive for giving up cigarettes.
The financial motive is set to be incorporated in new guidance for the NHS, with the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) calling the scheme “both effective and cost effective”.
Research has revealed that out of every 1,000 pregnant women offered vouchers in exchange for binning cigarettes, 177 would stop smoking.
The reward-based system – which would provide coupons up to the value of £400 – has already been tested in some regions, but NICE is looking at rolling it out nationwide.
Participants in the scheme will take biochemical tests so health professionals can check whether they have kept their word and quit smoking.
However, if testing difficulties arise as a result of the pandemic, vouchers are likely to be awarded regardless.
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% 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.”
Dr Jamie Hartmann-Boyce, senior research fellow in health behaviours at the University of Oxford, said the reward-based guidance was a good move.
Hartmann-Boyce stated: “Evidence supports providing vouchers to help pregnant people quit smoking, and it is great to see this in the new draft guidance.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.”
Local authorities in England are also taking action to cut down on smoking – with Manchester becoming one of the first councils to ban smoking on pavements outside pubs, cafes and restaurants.
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