A high street voucher scheme has been hailed as a “highly effective” way to help women stop smoking during pregnancy.
In a new nationwide study, the addition of a Love2Shop voucher incentive scheme alongside regular UK Stop Smoking Services was shown to more than double the number of women who stopped smoking during pregnancy.
The randomised trial examined the effectiveness of adding a financial incentive of up £400 of high street vouchers to existing prenatal care, in order to help pregnant women stop smoking.
To do this, almost 1,000 pregnant smokers were recruited to the trial, with half receiving standard Stop Smoking Services care and the other half the same prenatal care, but with additional vouchers.
Researchers found that 26.8% of women from the group which included the addition of the voucher incentive had quit smoking by the end of their pregnancy – in comparison, only 12.3% of women from the control group managed to quit.
Professor Linda Bauld, from the University of Edinburgh, said: “Our study shows just how effective high street vouchers are as a quitting aid when added to stop smoking service support.
“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 smokefree 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.”
Research 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, and published in The BMJ.
The number of women who smoke in pregnancy has been declining in countries over the years, including the UK and America.
In Scotland, between 1995 and 2019, self-reported smoking among pregnant women declined from 30.5% to 14.6% – a decline that was matched with falls in the rates of miscarriages and small births.
Maternal smoking is responsible for “significant” illness and deaths among women and their babies, including 7% of childhood hospital admissions for respiratory infection, 20% of infant deaths and 30% of babies born underweight.
Research has shown that women who permanently quit smoking during pregnancy will go on to have a near normal lifespan, whereas women who continue to smoke in pregnancy and beyond are likely to lose up to ten years of life.
Professor David Tappin from the University of Glasgow, said: “Pregnant smokers are usually on low incomes. Stopping smoking saves £70 to £100 per week by not buying cigarettes, which feeds into the ‘levelling up’ agenda.
“We hope our findings will enable services to increase smoking cessation during pregnancy.”