Predictably, there is outrage over a scheme in South Auckland that offers women smokers a voucher for up to $300 if they stop smoking while pregnant, to avoid the harm that tobacco can do to an unborn baby. But all the talk about the mother's personal responsibility and the like disregards a couple of salient facts.
The most important of these is the price an unborn child might pay for a mother's failure to act in its interests. Society also gains when the benefit of preventing smoking-related birth complications far outweighs the cost of the vouchers, which can be spent only on groceries, baby products, cinema tickets or petrol.
Ideally, of course, such a carrot should not be needed. Carrying a baby should be enough incentive to stop smoking. But despite copious education and a variety of schemes, the smoking rate, while dropping slowly, still remains at 15.5 per cent of adults.
Tobacco tax rises, another of which was imposed on January 1, are the most effective means of lowering this rate, and two more instalments over the next two years will surely accelerate the rate of decline.
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In the meantime, however, incentives such as this are worth trying, particularly in the case of pregnant smokers. They are harming not only themselves. Smoking during pregnancy contributes to higher rates of miscarriage, pre-term births, low birth weight, babies' difficulties during childbirth, asthma and glue ear.
If the voucher system persuades a woman to quit smoking while pregnant, it is $300 well spent.