Financial incentives may boost quit rates in pregnant smokers

In collaboration with the Press Association

Pregnant women who are offered a financial incentive are more likely to quit smoking, research published in the BMJ suggests. 

“It's too early to know for certain how this initiative will pan out, but it's an area we're keeping a keen eye on" - Nicola Smith, Cancer Research UK

Nearly a quarter (23 per cent) of those who were offered financial incentives alongside NHS support successfully quit during their pregnancy compared to just under one in 10 (nine per cent) who were offered normal NHS support alone.

Smoking during pregnancy remains one of the major, preventable causes of illness among newborns and their mothers.

Around 5,000 foetuses and newborn babies die every year in the UK due to the effects of smoking during pregnancy.

The NHS also faces large costs, spending up to £23.5 million on health costs for children and up to £64 million on further treatment for mothers.

Nicola Smith, senior health information officer at Cancer Research UK, said that financial rewards may prove an important tool to help some people stop smoking and help tackle smoking-related diseases, including cancer. 

But Smith stressed that this approach may not work for everyone, and further follow-up research was necessary. 

The Scottish study, led by Professor David Tappin, of the University of Glasgow, and Professor Linda Bauld, from the University of Stirling, assigned 612 pregnant smokers into two groups at random. 

One group received shopping vouchers worth up to £400 if they used normal stop smoking services and quit the habit during pregnancy.

The other group was offered only standard stop smoking services. 

Twenty-six women from the second group quit smoking (nine per cent), while this number jumped to 69 for those who offered the reward - some 23 per cent.

Those in the vouchers group were also more likely to remain non-smokers 12 months on, with 15 per cent staying smoke free compared with just four per cent in the control group.

“This is an interesting paper that adds to a growing body of evidence that financial incentives might be useful to help some people stop smoking. Based on previous studies it seems unlikely that this will work for everyone. But there’s some research which agrees that this approach may be more effective during pregnancy,” added Smith.

"It’s particularly important to support pregnant women to stop smoking, because it can put the health of their unborn baby at risk, as well as their own.

“It's too early to know for certain how this initiative will pan out, but it's an area we're keeping a keen eye on; tobacco kills half of its long-term users, and supporting more people to quit will help tackle smoking-related diseases, including cancer," she said.

The study’s authors suggest such incentives could offer a potentially cost-effective addition to current support services.

They add that if women stop smoking, the health benefits are felt long-term, and there can be a “ripple effect” passed down to their children.


  • Tappin, D., et al (2015). Financial incentives for smoking cessation in pregnancy: randomised controlled trial BMJ, 350 (jan27 4) DOI: 10.1136/bmj.h134