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Voucher scheme effective at stopping smoking in pregnancy – study

More than a quarter (26.8%) of pregnant women involved in the trial who had the vouchers quit smoking by the end of their pregnancy, research found.

19 October 2022

A high street voucher scheme has proven to be an effective way to help women stop smoking during pregnancy, according to a recent university study.

The research, published in the BMJ, a weekly peer-reviewed medical trade journal, involved 1,000 pregnant women from the UK who smoked.

During the trial, half the women received standard Stop Smoking Services care.

The other half had the same prenatal care with the addition of £400 in high street Love2Shop vouchers.

More than a quarter (26.8%) of pregnant women from the group with the vouchers quit smoking by the end of their pregnancy, researchers found.

Just 12.3% of pregnant women from the other group stopped.

Professor David Tappin, lead author of the study from the University of Glasgow, said: “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.”

The nationwide study 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.

It 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 weeks 34 and 38 of pregnancy.

Most of the pregnant women who quit from both groups relapsed after their baby was born, the researchers found.

But the study is ongoing to extend support, with financial voucher incentives, for 12 months after the baby is born to see if mothers are more likely to remain non-smokers.

Professor Linda Bauld, joint principal investigator for the study from the University of Edinburgh, said: “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.”

Researchers said smoking during pregnancy is responsible for significant ill health and death among women and their children, including 7% of childhood hospital admissions for respiratory infection, 20% of infant deaths and 30% of babies born underweight.

The number of women who smoke in pregnancy has been declining in countries, including the UK, in recent years.

In Scotland between 1995 and 2019, self-reported smoking among pregnant women declined from 30.5% to 14.6% – which researchers said matched falls in the rates of miscarriages and small births.

The study was funded by Cancer Research UK, the Scottish Government Chief Scientist Office, HSC Public Health Agency Northern Ireland, HSC R&D Division NI, Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke, The Scottish Cot Death Trust and The Lullaby Trust.

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