The £400 “Stop Smoking” Bribe…

…is really something else. It’s one of those news stories that popped up and blew my mind with how ridiculous it is. In what dimension does, “hey, how about being paid to stop a voluntary bad habit that YOU took up in the first place?” sound like a sane proposal?

But perhaps you require some context. This is, after all, a UK thing so chances are – if you reside elsewhere – you are currently reading this and thinking, “buh?”

So here it is: a piece of proposed guidance (not yet confirmed) from the National Health Service (NHS) is suggesting that pregnant women should be offered £400 worth of shopping vouchers as a bribe incentive to quit smoking, in the interests of their own health, and that of their unborn child.

Evidence shows that offering financial incentives to help pregnant women stop smoking is “both effective and cost effective”, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and Public Health England have said.

Research suggests that for every 1,000 pregnant women offered vouchers, 177 would stop smoking.

Their guidance, which is open to consultation, said studies have shown “voucher incentives were acceptable to many pregnant women and healthcare providers” and are already in use in some regions.

itv.com

Now, before you consider me a ranting idiot, I can of course see the positives in this. While I’m not a anti-smoking crusader myself (what a person chooses to do is their own business, and the consequences are theirs to own), I do think that it is good for a pregnant woman to kick the habit, and that it is also a good thing for them to stay on that wagon post-birthing in order for the sake of their child’s health, to avoid passive smoking, and so as not to encourage smoking when said child gets older. I’m not debating this, nor am I debating the positive intent behind this proposal.

But I am questioning why a pregnant woman needs to be bribed with shopping vouchers to stop smoking. In my mind, there’s something terribly fucked-up with society if a woman won’t quit the fags for the sake of their child, but they will try harder if there shopping vouchers at stake. I’m not trying to downplay the difficulty of quitting smoking, but this idea still implies that the allure of £400 to go shopping with is more appealing than protecting the health of your unborn child.

I just can’t wrap my head around it, and I’m genuinely baffled that anybody would need a stronger incentive to stop smoking than the fact that they have a new, precious life growing inside of them.

And, if we are to take a deeper dive into smoking in the first place, we will see that cigarettes and the act of smoking managed to become a social norm (a “cool” thing to do, even) decades ago, when tobacco advertising was fully permitted and at it’s most rampant. There were even dedicated marketing campaigns carefully constructed to bring more women into smoking and to therefore vastly increase the consumer base for tobacco products. Society fell hook, line, and sinker (as we do so often) for these advertisements, that are designed to make us feel inadequete and left behind socially unless we buy/do what we are being sold, and we are where we are today – with the act of smoking still deeply ingrained into everyday life. We were manipulated, hooked on nicotine, and bred into cash cows for the tobacco giants.

The point I’m trying to make is that this shopping voucher “solution” is simply curing one vice with another. Retail therapy and buying all of the unnecessary, unfulfilling shit that we don’t need (because are minds are still being artfully shaped and moulded by ad agencies) isn’t that far away from being encouraged to take up smoking. Admittedly, shopping poses no threat to your physical wellbeing (unless you get rammed by a trolley in a supermarket…), and can’t be considered a problem on the same level as smoking, but the irony of this incentive isn’t lost on me.

Back to the proposal though, you might be wondering how something like this can be monitored to prove that recipients of vouchers aren’t still smoking.

The experts said women should undergo biochemical tests to prove they have stopped smoking before receiving the vouchers.

itv.com

I guess that sounds good, right?

However they said that if testing is too difficult due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the vouchers should be given anyway.

itv.com

Look: I’m fully aware that I’m probably just blowing this out of proportion. Maybe I just REALLY wanted an excuse to add a new post to this blog after such a long period of inactivity. Perhaps this is just an inevitable reaction to actively avoiding the news for so long.

Regardless, I’ll close with a tl;dr: stop smoking because you WANT to stop. Stop smoking because you NEED to stop. Most importantly, stop smoking for the sake of your unborn child, NOT because there’s a fucking shopping voucher coming your way.

One thought on “The £400 “Stop Smoking” Bribe…

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