Professor Linda Bauld, of the University of Stirling, is one of the researchers behind a study which found pregnant women were more likely quit smoking if they were given financial incentives.
The study, involving 600 pregnant smokers from Glasgow, found over 20% of women offered shopping vouchers worth a total of £400 stopped smoking. This compares with 9% given normal NHS support alone.
The women were separated into two groups of 300. The financial incentive group received their regular support, as well as £50 in their first appointment; £50 if their first breath test suggested they had stopped smoking, followed by another £100 after another 12 weeks.
Their final £200 was given at 34-38 weeks if tests showed they were still not smoking.
The control group received their normal support.
Speaking on the study, Professor Bauld said: “We gave them a carbon monoxide breath test at the beginning, and throughout. Then at the end they also had to give a saliva sample, and they didn’t know when they would have to give that sample.
“It was a trial to try something new. The kinds of things we can offer to adults, like nicotine replacement therapy, actually are not that effective in pregnancy, and we’ve really struggled to get smoking and smoking rates down.”
Following the study, 15% of the women who had received the vouchers had managed to stay off cigarettes a year later, compared to 4% of the control group.
However, the research has received criticism for “bribing” women to stop smoking. Yet the authors of the research maintain that the vouchers are incentives, not bribes.
“I think it is rewarding women to do something difficult…we think to make that difficult change, the vouchers were that little extra push to motivate them”, Professor Bauld said.
Professor David Tappin, another of the lead authors, said: “Many of these mothers have inadequate housing, difficult relationships, low self-esteem and only enough income to subsist.
“The money, albeit in the form of vouchers, often lifts the pressure”.
The findings have been published in the British Medical Journal, who said “this study provides substantial evidence of a promising and potentially cost-effective new intervention to add to health service support.”