There’s Something Disturbing About It, But Paying Pregnant Women To Quit Smoking Works

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shutterstock_147565130__1398189719_142.196.167.223Providing economically disadvantage women with financial incentives appears to help them quit smoking, according to a new study published this month in Preventive Medicine. The findings show providing financial incentives more than doubled smoking abstinence rates during pregnancy and increased fetal growth. We could argue endlessly about the reasons why this is troubling, but one fact remains – it works.

Financial Incentives Help Pregnant Women Quit SmokingSmoking during pregnancy – particularly among economically-disadvantaged women – leads to a host of poor pregnancy outcomes, including miscarriage, preterm birth, SIDS, and additional adverse effects later in life. Without a formal treatment intervention, women in this population continue to smoke, and their babies suffer. Vermont Center on Behavior and Health Director Stephen Higgins, Ph.D., and colleagues, have developed an effective behavioral economic approach that offers women financial incentives for quitting.

This group’s study showed that offering financial incentives more than doubled smoking abstinence rates during pregnancy. A similar study done in the UK earlier this year (not on pregnant women) showed that offering as little as $6 was enough to make people 50 percent more likely to quit. I have to admit this confuses me a little. If one is a regular smoker, there are built-in financial benefits to quitting, aren’t there? There certainly are in New York City, where a pack of cigarettes can cost up to $13.

In an ideal world, the health of a baby would be enough incentive to make a mother quit – but that is just not realistic I guess. The monetary incentive plan studied in the UK also offered people rewards for things like eating healthy and exercising – which all worked to varying degrees.

I have no problem with low-income mothers being given financial incentives to quit if it means they will and give birth to healthier babies. Not only is a healthy baby just a better outcome all-around, but taxpayers will ultimately save money because there presumably won’t be as many medical bills to pay if there are not as many sick babies, right? The only problem I can see here is that someone who would be driven by a monetary reward but not simply by concern over the health of their child will probably just take up smoking again when the baby is born, and that is not a healthy environment for a child either. Then what happens? How long do we “pay” people to make healthy decisions for themselves and their families?

(photo: wong yu liang/ Shutterstock)