Smoking during pregnancy comes with a long list of adverse effects for both mother and baby, including an increased risk of premature delivery, low birth weight, and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Unfortunately, convincing women to quit during pregnancy has proven to be largely unsuccessful . . . that was until a UK study decided to pay them to do it.
Dr. David Tappin, a pediatrician and professor of clinical trials at Glasgow University, spent six years trying to get women to quit smoking by offering them high-quality counseling through mid-wives. Unfortunately, it didn’t work. Then he got the idea to try paying the woman an incentive for quitting. The longer they stayed away from smoking, the more money they got.
In total, the women could receive up to 400 pounds ($607) in gift cards that could be used to purchase furniture, baby gear, or groceries. The first gift card for 50 pounds ($76) would be given to them if they attended a counseling session and set a quit date. They received an additional 50 pounds if they managed to quit for two weeks. If they made it to 12 weeks, they would be given another for 100 pounds ($152). And, if they managed to stay away from smoking until their last weeks of pregnancy, they would be given a final gift card for 200 pounds ($303).
Of the 609 women who participated in the study, around 15 percent of them weren’t smoking by the end of their pregnancy. This was compared to just 4 percent of women who managed to stay away from cigarettes in the control group that had been offered traditional smoking cessation practices such as counseling and nicotine replacement.
In comparison to the cost of caring for babies exposed to cigarettes while in the womb (an estimated $18 million to $35 million in the first year of a baby’s life), the cost of giving out gift cards seems rather small. And Tappin agrees, despite any negative feedback coming from those that think it’s immoral to pay someone to quit smoking.
“You’re sort of saying, ‘Why are pregnant smokers being rewarded for what’s deemed as being reckless?’” he told NPR. “Every mother knows that to be pregnant is a challenge as well as a joy. For a lot of these woman, it’s just a challenge. A lot of them have poor housing, difficult relationships, poor self-esteem. The prospect of a new baby can be overwhelming. That very small amount of incentive allows them to pull themselves out of their addiction. It’s thinking about a health problem without thinking about the morality of it.”
He’s hoping to receive more funding to expand the voucher project to a number of sites around the Uk where smoking rates of women during pregnancy range from 20 percent of women to 5 percent.
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