Council rewards pregnant women with £260 shopping vouchers if they quit smoking

Expectant mothers are to be rewarded with shopping vouchers by a UK council if they quit smoking while they are pregnant.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council in Staffordshire have set up the scheme in an effort to reduce the number of infant deaths blamed on smoking in the city.

Up to £260 of Love2Shop vouchers – that can be spent in stores including Debenhams, Argos and New Look – are used as incentive for smokers who are struggling to quit the habit.

The vouchers are given out every two weeks that a smoker can stay cigarette-free, with the women tested for carbon monoxide to prove they aren’t cheating.

Women who quit smoking while pregnant can be rewarded with Love2Shop vouchers (Love2Shop)
Women who quit smoking while pregnant can be rewarded with Love2Shop vouchers (Love2Shop)

As an added incentive to stay off the tobacco, the vouchers are offered up to 12 weeks after the baby is born, while a partner or friend will also receive £40 vouchers as reward for their support.

So far at least 65 women have received the vouchers – at a cost of around £17,000 – but the scheme has raised eyebrows with locals, with some questioning whether taxpayer money should be spent on “rewarding” smokers.

Mum-of-three Angela Copeland, 40, said: “I have never smoked in my entire life but do I get a free handout? No I do not.

“Rather than reward pregnant women for not risking the lives of their unborn children, why not punish those women caught smoking or drinking while pregnant.

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“Surely that’s a better, and fairer way to protect babies from their reckless parents.”

However, mum-of-three Claire Brennan, 36, who smoked throughout her pregnancies, supported the scheme.

She said: “I don’t think this scheme is a waste of money because it’s always good to educate people, especially young parents, about the issues.”

Councillor Ann James, Stoke-on-Trent’s cabinet member for health and social care, said: “The scheme is a pilot project designed to encourage pregnant women to set a quit date and sustain it for at least 12 weeks after they give birth.

“Studies on Voucher Based Reinforcement Therapy provide compelling evidence that positive reinforcement with retail vouchers creates positive changes in behaviour.

“We are keen to see if this approach can improve infant health in Stoke-on-Trent.’

Some 5,000 babies die in the womb or shortly after birth from mothers smoking during pregnancy each year in the UK, while figures show 19% of pregnant women smoke in Stoke-on-Trent – 7% higher than the national average.

Top pic: Rex