Stop smoking scheme for mums-to-be 'waste of money'

A PRESSURE group has branded a scheme which rewards pregnant women for giving up smoking a “total waste of taxpayers' money” as it was revealed the project was being expanded across Suffolk.

Annie Davidson

A PRESSURE group has branded a scheme which rewards pregnant women for giving up smoking a “total waste of taxpayers' money” as it was revealed the project was being expanded across Suffolk.

The Health Enhancement Reward Scheme (HERS) was trialed in Bury St Edmunds and Sudbury and celebrates its six month anniversary today.

Run by the Suffolk Stop Smoking Service, the project works with pregnant women to help them kick the habit using group support sessions and rewards such as a haircut, beauty treatment or cinema tickets.

The mothers-to-be could also take the reward in the form of vouchers to spend on baby products. Every woman taking part in the scheme could receive the equivalent of �10 per month for a maximum of 11 months.

Yesterday it was announced the scheme would be rolled out across the whole of Suffolk although the exact details have not yet been confirmed.

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Campaign group the Taxpayers' Alliance said last night that pregnant women should give up smoking without the rewards.

Campaign manager Susie Squire said: “This is a total waste of taxpayers' money.

“Their own health and that of their child should be enough of an incentive for pregnant women to stop smoking, without any voucher system.

“We've got to put the responsibility back on the individual and realise that nannying people simply doesn't work.”

But the Suffolk Stop Smoking Service defended the project and said the small rewards gave women an added incentive to quit as well as saving the NHS the costs associated with mums-to-be who carried on smoking.

Babies born to mothers who carry on smoking are more likely to suffer from congenital defects such as glue ear or a cleft palate and the risk of cot death is four times higher for babies whose mothers who smoke between one and nine cigarettes a day.

The risk of having a stillbirth also increases by about one third for women who smoke during pregnancy.

Women taking part in the project regularly have their carbon monoxide levels tested to ensure they are still not smoking.

However if they did lapse they would not have to hand back any reward because it was felt this would detract from what they had managed to achieve by giving up if only for a short time.

HERS scheme co-ordinator Hazel Pearce said: “The long term effects of smoking during pregnancy can mean a baby ends up in a special care baby unit which can cause trauma to both baby and parents and is a huge expense to the NHS.

“These rewards cost virtually nothing yet can really encourage women to overcome their addiction to nicotine.”

The HERS project also offered taster sessions in baby massage, advice on breastfeeding and healthy eating information.