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Voucher scheme effective at halting smoking in pregnancy

Posted on 24 October 2022

A new study has shown that a high street voucher scheme is an effective way to help women stop smoking during pregnancy.

The research revealed that the addition of a Love2Shop voucher incentive scheme alongside regular UK Stop Smoking Services more than doubled the number of women who stopped smoking during pregnancy. 

The phase three randomised trial examined the effectiveness and the cost-effectiveness of adding an incentive of up £400 of high street vouchers to existing prenatal care, aimed at helping women to stop smoking in pregnancy. 

Almost 1,000 pregnant women who were smokers were recruited to the trial, with half receiving standard Stop Smoking Services care and the other half the same prenatal care with the addition of the voucher incentive scheme for smoking cessation. 

Additional incentive

The research was a collaboration by experts at the Universities of York, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Stirling, and Queen's University Belfast.

Professor David Torgerson, Co-Director of the University of York’s Trial Unit, said: “The trial showed that 26.8% of pregnant women who were given the additional voucher incentive had quit smoking by the end of their pregnancy, while 12.3% of pregnant women from the control group, which received only the standard Stop Smoking Services care, stopped smoking. 

“Maternal smoking is responsible for significant ill health, and in worst cases death among women and their children, so it is vital that we conduct these trials to understand the best methods to support women for the best outcomes for their health and their unborn child.”

Hospital admissions

Smoking in pregnancy is responsible for approximately 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 10 years of life. 

The study took place at seven different sites across the UK – in Scotland, England and Northern Ireland – and confirmed results through nicotine saliva testing. The participants were tested for smoking status between week 34 and week 38 of pregnancy. Most of the pregnant women who quit from both groups relapsed after their baby was born. 

Ongoing research

Research is ongoing to extend support, with financial voucher incentives, for 12 months after the baby is born, to see if mothers remain non-smokers ‘permanently’ benefitting both parent and child health. 

Professor David Tappin, lead author of the study from the University of Glasgow, said: ‘We know that smoking in pregnancy can cause significant health problems for both mother and baby. 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, which feeds into the ‘levelling up’ agenda. We hope our findings will enable services to increase smoking cessation during pregnancy.”