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Commentary By Theodore Dalrymple

My Sister's Keeper

Should pregnant women be bribed to quit smoking?

Am I my brother’s keeper, and if so then precisely how many brothers (and sisters) do I have? This is the question that came to mind immediately, when I saw the cover story, “Paid to Quit: Support to stop smoking in pregnancy,” in the latest edition of the British Medical Journal.

The title referred to a paper describing an experiment in which 941 pregnant women who smoked were allocated at random to one of two groups. One group was offered the usual services that are supposed to help people to quit smoking, while the other was offered those services plus a financial incentive of vouchers for just over $500 to quit smoking. Twenty-seven per cent of those who were paid to quit while pregnant did so, while only 12 per cent of those who were not paid did so. In other words, about a quarter of a million dollars was paid out for 68 women to quit smoking during their pregnancy. Six months later, 6 per cent of the women in the experimental group and 4 per cent in the control group had maintained their abstinence from smoking.

Continue reading the entire piece here at Law & Liberty


Theodore Dalrymple is a contributing editor of City Journal and a Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute.

This piece originally appeared in Law & Liberty