PUBLIC HEALTH: Voucher-Backed Smoking Cessation Program Proves Successful
An Oregon State University study "found that low-income pregnant women were far more likely to stop smoking if they were given vouchers worth $50 a month than if they got only counseling and self-help literature," the Portland Oregonian reports. The study, conducted by OSU assistant professor of public health Susan Prows and Rebecca Donatelle, chair of the OSU public health department, showed that 34.6% of women who received financial incentives to quit smoking remained smoke-free after eight months of pregnancy, whereas only 9% of women who did not receive the money quit smoking. And, two months after delivery, 24% of the first group were still smoke-free, compared with 5% of the second group.
Where's The Money?
The Oregonian reports that the "idea of paying people to do something that's good for their health has raised some eyebrows." Prows said, "It's been somewhat politically controversial. A lot of people say, 'People will quit if you just tell them how bad it is for them.' But we've shown that's not true." Other public health officials cited concerns over the cost of the program. "It's an interesting idea, but I think it's very expensive and I think selling it would be politically tough," said Wendy Rankin, manager of the Multnomah County tobacco-reduction program. The Oregon study was funded by a $240,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, as well as $50,000 in vouchers supplied by private donors including Regence BlueCross and BlueShield of Oregon, HMO Oregon, Epitope Inc., Fred Meyer Corp., Good Samaritan Hospital in Corvallis, Albany General Hospital and the March of Dimes.
Proponents believe the cost of the smoking-reduction program "would be more than offset by the savings" resulting from fewer smoking-related illnesses. The Oregonian reports the state Health Division estimates that smoking accounted for "$267 million in medical treatment in Oregon during 1993" and that smoking-related illnesses contributed to 22.3% of all deaths in Oregon in 1995. The Oregonian reports pregnant smokers are more likely to deliver low birth-weight babies, each of whom "generates $4,000 to $9,000 in added medical expenses." In addition, Prows said, "smoking is estimated to add 10% to the cost of pediatric care." The Oregonian reports other studies will look at "how important it is to have a caring partner to lend support" to quit smoking. Prows said "social support" could have more of an influence than the "financial incentive" (O'Neill, 3/3).