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Pregnant smokers voucher plan

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Pregnant smokers in Telford & Wrekin are likely to be given vouchers for products such as mother and baby goods, and beauty treatments, if they can show that they have kicked the habit.

Pregnant smokers in Telford & Wrekin are likely to be given vouchers for products such as mother and baby goods, and beauty treatments, if they can show that they have kicked the habit.

The new move to persuade young mothers to quit smoking was agreed in principle by the borough primary care trust yesterday and a pilot scheme is planned. But there have been warnings the move would be controversial.

Dr Kevin Lewis, director of Shropshire's Help 2 Quit service, which is cal- ling for the scheme, said some people, would see it as the health service rew- arding bad behaviour.

But he said there were big health benefits to be gained from encouraging pregnant smokers to quit. It would help improve live birth rates, result in better health for newborn babies, and cut NHS treatment costs.

The trust and the Help 2 Quit service face a tough challenge to reduce smoking rates among pregnant wom- en who have proved one of the hardest groups to reach.

At the end of the 2007/08 year, 466 women – 23 per cent of maternities – from Telford & Wrekin were still smoking up to the time of delivery.

But smoking is one of the biggest risks to a successful pregnancy. The clinical risks include miscarriage and bleeding, premature births and cot death. The risk of cot death is trebled in those mothers who smoke during and after pregnancy.

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A limited consultation has been carried out with pregnant smokers in the borough to determine what items would provide the biggest incentive to help them quit and remain quitted.

Without prompting, 13 of 15 women consulted said they would rather have vouchers for products such as mother and baby goods, and beauty treatments.

Voucher and cash schemes have proved successful in reducing smoking rates in the United States.

Although the trust board agreed in principle to the initiative, chairman Brian Taylor called for a more detailed report for next month's mee- ting on costings, and the the length of time for which mo- thers were expected to quit before they were rewarded.

But Mr Taylor agreed that new incentives and innovative ideas such as vouchers were needed to reduce smoking rates.

By Dave Morris

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