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Shopping vouchers boost quit rates in pregnant smokers

£400 shopping vouchers for High Street stores shown to be an effective incentive for some

Ingrid Torjesen

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Pregnant smokers are more likely to quit smoking if they are offering shopping vouchers as a reward if they succeed, researchers have found.

A group of 612 pregnant smokers in Glasgow were randomised to two groups – half the women received usual stop smoking support which included 10 weeks of free nicotine replacement therapy and four weekly support phone calls, and half the women were offered the prospect of £400 shopping vouchers for use at High Street stores, such as Iceland, Argos and Mothercare, if they quit successfully.

Women offered shopping vouchers received routine care plus £50 for attending a face to face appointment to set a quit date and another £50 if at four weeks’ post-quit date exhaled carbon monoxide confirmed quitting. Another £100 was given to them for continued validated abstinence of exhaled carbon monoxide after 12 weeks and a final £200 voucher for validated abstinence of exhaled carbon monoxide at 34-38 weeks’ gestation.

The results* published in The BMJ showed that 22.5% of the women offered vouchers stopped smoking at 34-38 weeks’ gestation, compared with 8.6% who received normal NHS support alone.

Furthermore, self-reported data collected a year after setting quit dates showed that 15% of women in the voucher group claimed to be not smoking, compared with just 4% in the routine care group.

The researchers said that a possible unintended consequence of financial incentives was that women were untruthful about their smoking status when asked during the trial. “We found some evidence of women being untruthful about their smoking status over the telephone,” they said. “Eighteen participants who self-reported as quit to the helpline subsequently reported as current smokers when arranging a confirmation visit with the research nurse.”

A small number of self-reported quitters were validated as non-smokers by carbon monoxide breath testing but may have only temporarily abstained, they added.

* David Tappin, et al. Financial incentives for smoking cessation in pregnancy: randomised controlled trial. BMJ 2015;350:h134. Doi:  10.1136/bmj.h134

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