Cash incentives work to reduce smoking

Stuff reports:

Would the promise of an US$800 (NZ$1075) payout motivate you to quit smoking? And if so, what’s the most effective way to dangle that reward?

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania sought to answer those questions, with help from more than 2500 smokers who either worked for the US pharmacy chain CVS Caremark or were their family members or friends.

They found that financial incentives greatly improved the odds of kicking the habit. Compared with a control group that was offered “usual care” – including smoking cessation guides from the American Cancer Society and referrals to local anti-smoking resources – those who also were offered the prospect of a payday were far more likely to be smoke-free six months after their quit dates. The researchers also discovered that the type of incentive offered could make a big difference in a smoker’s chances of success, according to their report published Wednesday by the New England Journal of Medicine.

The detail being:

People who had their own skin in the game had the greatest odds of success. Among those who were willing to make a US$150 (NZ$201) deposit that they could earn back by remaining smoke-free, the quit rate at six months was 52 per cent. That blew away the 17 per cent quit rate for those didn’t put up any of their own cash. It also bested the 6 per cent quit rate for those in the control group who only got usual care.

So by far the best results come when smokers stand to both gain money if they stop smoking, but also lose their own money if they don’t.

But the researchers said it’s not clear that the skin-in-the-game approach was the best way to go. Though the results were much better, smokers were far less likely to give it a try. Only 14 per cent of the study participants assigned to a deposit-based program were willing to fork over their money. In comparison, 90 per cent of those who didn’t have to shell out agreed to participate in their part of the experiment.

When the researchers took this into account, the success rate for the simple reward systems beat out the success rate for the deposit systems by margin of 16 per cent to 10 per cent. That was a statistically significant difference, the study authors wrote.

It is logical that fewer people are willing to put up their own money. But if they are, then it is more successful. So offering both programmes would seem to be the best thing to do.

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