A SCOTTISH health board has spent almost half a million pounds bribing smokers with shopping vouchers to encourage them to quit.
The Quit 4 U Scheme, piloted by NHS Tayside in March 2009, has cost £455,500 since it started.
Smokers from disadvantaged areas are handed Asda vouchers worth £12.50 for every week they stay off the fags – offering a potential total of £150 for those who are still smoke-free after three months.
In the past two years, more than 1,800 people have taken part – and around half of them have managed to stop smoking for over a month.
NHS Tayside has hailed the scheme as a success, and says the 50 per cent success rate is double the national rate for smoking cessation projects.
But critics have slammed the project, labeling it as a waste of public money.
Emma Boon, from Taxpayers Alliance, said: “Taxpayers money should not be spent on trying to get people to change their lifestyle in this way.
“Bribing people to give up smoking is just a quick fix, with no long-term cost savings as there’s nothing to stop smokers going back to they habit once they have had the cash in their hand.
“At a time when public spending desperately needs to be cut, programmes like this should be scrapped.”
Quit 4 U was set up on the back of a similar project run by the same health board, called Give It Up For Baby, which aims to bring down the rates of smoking among mums-to-be in Dundee.
Both schemes offer cash incentives for quitters, and mums-to-be who stay off cigarettes until their baby is three months old can reach a maximum of £650.
The Scottish Government, which contributed £232,000 between 2009 and 2010, released figures which show the annual cost of Quit 4 U will reach £455,500 next month.
The scheme is set to run for at least one more year, but the Scottish Government has advised it will not be providing any money this year.
NHS Tayside said it will commit a further £74,000 to the project until March 2012 and NHS Health Scotland has also allocated £67,500, meaning the total cost could reach £597,000 by this time next year.
Participants are committed to regular carbon monoxide breath tests to prove the have not been smoking, and the health board argues that the cost to get people to stop now will be less than the health costs of treating them in later years if they keep puffing away.
Dr Andrew Radley, Quit 4 U lead consultant, said: “The Scottish Government and NHS Health Scotland have funded a conglomerate between the University of Aberdeen and the University of Edinburgh to evaluate the scheme.
“That evaluation will go on for another year.
“Over 50 per cent of the participants have achieved the four-week quit rate which is a lot better than average.
“From our point of view it seems the right decision to continue with the project until the evaluation is published and we can formally review it.
“This has been a good scheme for us.
“We’ve recruited many people that we wouldn’t have done otherwise.”