Pregnant women offered gift vouchers to quit smoking

Can rewards encourage pregnant women to quit smoking?
Can rewards encourage pregnant women to quit smoking? Photo: Ian Hooton

An Australian study is investigating whether pregnant women can be incentivised to give up smoking. The University of Tasmania will offer monthly $50 department store vouchers to women who agree to quit cigarettes.  

Around one in six Tasmanian women smoke during their pregnancy. The rate amongst the under 25s is even worse – one in three.

Dr Mai Frandsen is a research fellow with the Cancer Council of Tasmania and the University of Tasmania. She told the ABC that and the premise of the research raised tricky questions.

"It's a health psychology question. We all know that we should exercise, we all know that we shouldn't have too many beers, we all know that sitting in front of the television for too long is bad for us, but information isn't enough," she said.

Dr Frandsen said that many women do want to quit, but they lack strategies that can help them.

"The tricky thing about wanting to quit while pregnant is that a lot of the treatments that are available for people who aren't pregnant and want to quit," she explains.

"Unfortunately even though they're extra motivated to quit, these women don't have as many strategies or don't know that they have as many strategies for actually doing so."

Women interested in taking part in the study are put through a thorough screening process to ensure they are suitable candidates.

"Obviously women have to consent to be part of this so they know full well what they're going in for. Some of the concerns were that the women would be coerced into doing the study because of the financial incentive involved" Dr Frandsen explained.

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So far results have been promising. The preliminary results show a 30 per cent quit rate, which is three times higher than the Tasmanian average.

However, the study has come under fire from critics who say that providing a financial incentive is a "naive" way of looking at the issue. But Dr Frandsen says it is important to try a new approach.

"Whatever we are doing isn't working. We still have the second highest rates of smoking in the country and the state and national aim is to get that down," she said.

Angela* is a participant in the study. She says that although she was keen to give up smoking when she became pregnant, the financial incentive helped to speed up the process.

"I always thought if I was pregnant it'd be easy, I'd quit straight away no problem but it's actually harder than [I] first thought," she told the ABC.

"I would have been able to do it because I cut down a lot when I found out I was pregnant. But I think this made me quit a lot sooner than what I think I would have on my own."

*Name has been changed