Trial to pay pregnant women to quit smoking branded ‘disgraceful’

NHS doctor on the dangers of smoking in 2020

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Health chiefs in Cheshire say similar projects have worked elsewhere as, when children see their parents stubbing the habit, they are less likely to start smoking themselves. More than one in ten pregnant women in Cheshire East smoke by the time they give birth, and this figure is higher than the UK average.

So Cheshire East Council, which the Tories lost to no overall political control in 2019, will trial the scheme. If women cut the cigarettes, they’ll be paid £400 across six instalments and other smokers in their household will be paid £200 to give up too.

But residents have blasted the move, arguing taxpayers’ money shouldn’t be spent on the drive.

One posted online: “Both the public health service and the Champs Public Health Collaborative are funded by the taxpayer. This is a disgraceful way to throw away taxpayers’ money.”

Another wrote: “It’s unbelievable. It’s a pathetic suggestion. These women get their £400, then start smoking again.”

Concerns have also been raised about pregnant women pretending to smoke in order to pocket £400, Cheshire Live says. 

However, carbon monoxide tests will be taken at intervals to confirm the person has not smoked before they get the cash.

Dr Matt Tyrer, director of public health, told the adults and health committee on Monday: “We have 10.8 per cent of pregnant women in Cheshire East smoking at the time of delivery, and that is higher than the England average.”

A budget of £116,500 is being proposed for the scheme. Of this £95,000 will come from the ring-fenced public health grant and £21,000 from the Champs Public Health Collaborative. No funding will come from Cheshire East Council.

It is estimated the programme would lead to savings in the wider health and social care system of around £450,000. Councillor Denis Murphy (Congleton East, Lib Dem) was the only councillor opposed to the scheme.

Cllr Murphy: “I’m all in favour of supporting smoking cessation, very nice if we can do that, but I am fundamentally opposed to paying people to stop something that they voluntarily choose to do.

“I’m very impressed by all the data that’s been put in front of me and I suppose, if you want to crunch numbers and say that you spend £116,000 the return will be £450,000, the maths speak for themselves, but I am fundamentally opposed to providing financial incentives.”

Councillor Kolker said: “Smoking is catastrophic to people’s health, and certainly the health of an unborn child, so anything that is proven to reduce smoking, I am absolutely 100 per cent behind.”

He said if a pregnant woman filled in a questionnaire about her health history and didn’t smoke, she would tick the non-smoker box.

“But if word got around that the council are giving you £400 if you tick the box and say you are a smoker, then I would suspect that a lot of people would say ‘yes, I am a smoker, but I’m desperately trying to give up’.”

He said then, presumably, the GP would refer them to the Cheshire East programme.

“You’re a success as far as Cheshire East is concerned because you’ve gone through the programme and you’re not a smoker, which means brilliant, we’ve achieved something,” said the Dane Valley councillor.

“Statisticians will be ecstatic because it proves their case that payments do indeed stop smoking.”

He said the woman would be delighted, having received her £400 but, in reality, she had never been a smoker in the first place.

“So if you could just reassure me that there are real processes in place to stop people defrauding the system, then that’s terrific,” he said.

Dr Tyrer said: “We will make sure that we are learning any lessons which come from the areas that have said set it up before.

“We will make sure that we have got robust processes around how we determine somebody’s eligibility, which will include breath testing at that point, so that you can’t have somebody who’s never been smoking before come in and say yes, I’m a smoker.”

The committee voted in favour of the pilot scheme, with one against.

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