Pregnant women who smoke are more likely to give up if they are given shopping vouchers, new research suggests.
A trial involving over 600 women from Glasgow found that 23% of the women offered vouchers - worth a total of £400 - stopped smoking, compared to 9% who were given solely NHS support.
Smoking while pregnant increases the risk of miscarriage and stillbirth, and academics
The study, published in the British Medical Journal, suggested that the deaths of 5,000 foetuses and babies each year in the UK could be attributed to smoking during pregnancy.
Researchers said the results showed providing financial incentives is a cost-effective solution for the health service.
But the Royal College of Midwives criticised the controversial method, telling the BBC it amounted to "bribery".
The women, from an area covered by NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, were separated into two groups of around 300.
The control group were offered support phone calls and free nicotine replacement therapy for 10 weeks
The second group were offered this support as well as financial incentives including:
- £50 for attending a face to face appointment and setting a quit date
- Another £50 if a breath test confirmed they had stopped smoking
- A further £100 after another £100
- A final £200 at 34-38 weeks
Researchers from Glasgow and Stirling universities wrote: "This study provides substantial evidence of a promising and potentially cost effective new intervention to add to present health service support."
Janet Fyle, of the Royal College of Midwives, told the BBC: "Can we afford to incentivise behavioural change when the amount of potentially damaging lifestyle choices that people make could be almost limitless?"
"What is also needed is a greater investment in prevention and in the health, educational and social care staff needed to promote the health and wellbeing of individuals."