Mums-to-be offered �100 to quit smoking

A CONTROVERSIAL new health incentive will see pregnant smokers offered up to �100 of shopping vouchers if they manage to kick the habit.

James Hore

A CONTROVERSIAL new health incentive will see pregnant smokers offered up to �100 of shopping vouchers if they manage to kick the habit.

The pilot scheme is the brainchild of the North East Essex NHS which has declared that smoking is the “scourge of the 21st century” and will see mothers-to-be given Co-Op vouchers to be spent on food.

Women will receive �20 when they have stopped for a week, a further �40 after quitting for four weeks and another �40 after they manage a year.

Anyone claiming to have given up will be tested with carbon monoxide monitoring.

The primary care trust hit the headlines last year after it considered offering cash incentives to encourage patients to go to see their GP and this month it emerged it was targeting pre-school children in a bid to persuade them to talk to their parents about the dangers of smoking.

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Two of the areas that the North East Essex NHS Stop Smoking Service will be targeting will be Colchester, especially its Greenstead estate, and the coastal town of Harwich.

But last night Douglas Carswell, the MP for Harwich, whose wife is expecting her first child, said just being pregnant should be enough of an incentive to give up.

He said: “Talking as someone who is expecting their first child at the end of March I find it pretty amazing anyone would smoke when they are pregnant.

“I hope that the health of a child would be all the incentive they would need.

“I am all-in-favour of spending money on stopping pregnant women from smoking but I am not sure that cash-style handouts are the way to go about it.

“Why not look at other ways of spending that money - Surestart is under pressure so why not invest it there towards healthy living provision.”

He said the scheme was also open to abuse if people caught on to the idea.

“There is also the danger that people will claim to be smokers in order to get some of the benefit.

“I just can't believe there is a single adult in the country who does not know smoking is bad for you and very bad for an unborn baby,” he said.

However, Sue White, the program co-ordinator, said the incentive could make the difference for people wanting to quit.

She said: “Women who smoke during pregnancy are a key target group for our service.

“We hope by offering this added incentive of shopping vouchers, it could make the difference with some women between kicking the habit or carrying on smoking.

“Our team already offers a great deal of support to women who want to give up and that support will, of course, continue.”

Confirmation of pregnancy will be referral by GP or a midwife, while women who self-refer will be required to show their maternity hand-held notes.

The Colchester and Tendring NHS Stop Smoking Service claims to have “one of the best” records in the country for helping people quit.