A council has approved a plan to pay pregnant women £400 to quit smoking.
The Cheshire East Council health committee was told about 10% of the area’s expectant mothers were smokers and a pilot scheme paying them over six instalments would cost about £116,000.
It was also told other smokers in their households would receive £200 to give up.
The area’s public health director Dr Matt Tyrer said it could lead to healthcare savings of about £450,000
The Local Democracy Reporting Service said Dr Tyrer told councillors that in Cheshire East, there was 10.8% of pregnant women “smoking at the time of delivery and that is higher than the England average”.
NHS figures show 9.6% of pregnant women were known to be smokers at the time of delivery in 2020-21.
The pilot scheme was supported by all but one of the committee’s members.
Congleton East Liberal Democrat councillor Denis Murphy said that while he was “all in favour of supporting smoking cessation”, he was “fundamentally opposed to paying people to stop something that they voluntarily choose to do”.
“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,” he added.
Conservative councillor Andrew Kolker, who represents Dane Valle, said smoking was “catastrophic” to the health of an unborn child, so he was “absolutely 100% behind” anything that is proven to reduce smoking.
However, he added that he was concerned about how the council could prevent fraud.
“If word got round that the council are giving you 400 quid 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.
He said such a system would mean statisticians would be “ecstatic because it proves their case that payments do indeed stop smoking” and the women involved would be delighted, having received her £400 but, in reality, she had never been a smoker in the first place.
Dr Tyrer said “robust processes” to determine somebody’s eligibility, which will “include breath testing… so that you can’t have somebody who’s never been smoking before come in and say ‘yes, I’m a smoker’.”