Rewards for smokers who quit 'insulting'

A $13,000 programme enticing expectant Maori and Pasifika mothers with jewellery and gift vouchers to stop smoking has been slammed as insulting and undignified by critics.

But a doctor behind the scheme has defended it, saying two in five Maori women smoke in pregnancy which she described as a "public health emergency".

The Waikato District Health Board incentive programme is offered to mostly Maori and Pasifika mothers who are less than 28 weeks pregnant.

A total of $13,000 of DHB money has been specifically allocated to the project.

As part of the programme, vouchers worth $250 will be given out in intervals after a woman has stopped smoking.

The vouchers could be used for groceries, petrol and at The Warehouse but the DHB said they could not be used for cash, cigarettes or alcohol.

In addition, local Maori artist Nichola Te Kiri has designed earrings specifically for women who successfully quit.

Hamilton social commentator and Waikato Times columnist Peter Dornauf said the incentive treated adults like children.

"I think it's just undignified and well, it's insulting . . . Here's some money and you stop doing the bad thing."

Dornauf did not dispute the hospital's intention to do good and could understand the investment but said, "I'm looking at the morality of it".

"What it does is, it's perpetuating a kind of low self-esteem for the people they're dealing with."

Dornauf felt the move encouraged a "gimme society".

"It's bribing people to do the right thing when they should be doing the right thing in the first place."

The idea has also been criticised by Ngati Wairere spokesman Wiremu Puke.

"It is like giving a child sugar and hoping they don't get diabetes. I just cannot see how this will work," he said.

"What is to stop them going and buying sugary foods and drinks - that won't be any better for the baby."

Thirty Maori and Pacific Island women are currently on the programme, plus 10 European women with community services cards, making a total trial pool of 40.

Figures from Waikato DHB in June said 41 per cent of Maori women smoke while pregnant, and only 2 per cent quit during pregnancy.

Traditionally Maori have placed spiritual value on the breath and Puke believed the health board should use the money to educate whanau about the value of overall health.

In defence of the scheme, Waikato DHB public health doctor Dr Nina Scott said the incentives were in recognition of the fact women needed a strong support network to help them quit.

"New Zealand's high rate of smoking during pregnancy for Maori women is a public health emergency."

Scott said the impact of smoking on an unborn child was clear but the pressures of pregnancy often meant women postponed quitting.

"So rewards like recognition and gift vouchers along the way really help keep the mums on track during those important months when the baby needs all the help it can get." Women will be offered counselling from smoking cessation services and each will be given a carbon monoxide test.

amanda.parkinson@fairfaxmedia.co.nz

Waikato Times