Smoking during pregnancy increases the risk of harm to both the mother and child with the behavior claiming the distinction as the number one cause of poor pregnancy outcomes.
Emerging studies also suggest in-utero smoke exposure can harm the child by increasing the risk of respiratory and cardiac illnesses later in life.
The good news is that the prevalence of smoking during pregnancy has decreased. The bad news is that economically disadvantaged pregnant women continue to smoke at much higher rates than affluent women.
For the last three decades, developing more effective smoking cessation interventions for pregnant women — especially among vulnerable populations — has been a public health priority.
While the challenge is ever present, one strategy stands out as being the most efficacious and cost-effective, explains Stephen T. Higgins, Ph.D., director of the Vermont Center on Behavior and Health.
Higgins discovered financial incentives in the form of vouchers exchangeable for retail goods, like groceries and diapers, work wonders in getting moms to stop smoking.
During the U.S. cocaine epidemic of the 1980s and 1990s, when virtually all other treatments were failing miserably, Higgins initiated the use of monetary incentives along with intensive counseling to change behavior.
The treatment approach became known as contingency management in the substance abuse field.
The approach, he explains, has been repeatedly shown to aid smoking cessation among pregnant and post-partum women, especially those who are economically disadvantaged.
Higgins says this strategy is especially important for “those who work with this population and need to be aware of alternatives to the status quo.”
In addition to his own research findings, Higgins analyzed other randomized controlled trials between 2012-2015 that used financial incentives to help pregnant smokers quit.
The findings from his research now appear in an article, “Some Recent Developments on Financial Incentives for Smoking Cessation Among Pregnant and Newly Postpartum Women” which appears in the journal Current Addiction Research.