£40 vouchers for mothers-to-be who quit smoking

PREGNANT women in South Yorkshire could be rewarded with shopping vouchers if they quit smoking in a move already under attack by campaigners who say public money should be better spent.

Under the scheme, which is set to be agreed by health bosses today, mothers-to-be in Rotherham would receive High Street vouchers worth up to 40 if they attend appointments with the health trust's stop smoking service. Vouchers worth a further 20 would be given to their husbands or partners if they also quit.

If 100 couples take part in the scheme it would cost NHS Rotherham 6,000 – far less, health chiefs say, than the cost to the NHS of the long-term problems associated with smoking in pregnancy.

NHS Rotherham is aiming to reduce smoking in pregnancy rates to 15 per cent by 2010.

But Susie Squire, campaign manager for the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: "This is a total waste of taxpayers' money.

"Their own health and that of their child should be enough of an incentive for pregnant women to stop smoking, without any voucher system.

"We've got to put the responsibility back on the individual and realise that nannying people simply doesn't work."

The report to go before today's board meeting says: "It has been estimated that interventions to reduce smoking in pregnancy could result in savings to the NHS at a rate of up to 4 for every 1 spent on the intervention.

"There are still many smoking pregnant women who do not attend their first appointment with the stop smoking service. Discussion with the stop-smoking midwives indicates that many women in Rotherham are not motivated to stop smoking and do not see it as a priority."

Similar pilot schemes have also taken place in Telford, Shropshire, and Colchester, Essex. A pilot project in Brighton included children as young as 10, leading some critics to warn youngsters could be inspired to take up the habit to earn vouchers.

In Rotherham, the vouchers would be non-transferable and couldn't be redeemed against cigarettes or alcohol. They would be valid for stores including Mothercare, Early Learning Centre, Boots and Argos .