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Jun 03, 2015

Cash Incentives Help Smokers Quit

Rewards-based programs are much more appealing than deposit-based programs, which require smokers to risk their own money.

In a study conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and published in the New England Journal of Medicine, four different employment-based smoking cessation programs that reward individuals for quitting smoking were compared. Many employers, including CVS and General Electric, already offer programs to help their employees quit. Not only can these programs improve employee health and productivity, they may reduce company payouts to insurance companies. The question is: What’s the best type of smoking cessation program that employers can offer?

To learn more, researchers assigned more than 2,500 CVS employees to a variety of smoking cessation programs in 2012. Two programs simply rewarded smokers up to $800 for not smoking, while two others required a $150 deposit, which could be recouped only if smokers successfully quit. Each type of program had either an individual or group model, to see if one design worked better than the other. Some studies suggest that group programs make individuals more accountable, which could be useful when it comes to quitting smoking. Some participants were also assigned to standard education and counseling on smoking cessation, which offered no cash incentives.

After following participants for six months, researchers found that quit rates were much higher among those in cash incentive programs versus standard programming. Only 6% of smokers in the standard care group successfully quit after six months, compared to 9–16% of adults in the cash incentive programs. There was no difference in quit rates between the individual and group programs, suggesting that a sense of peer pressure or competition doesn’t increase smokers’ chances of quitting.

Interestingly, researchers also noted that subjects were much less likely to enroll in a smoking cessation program that requires a deposit. Of those assigned to the reward-based programs, 90% enrolled into the program. In comparison, only 14% of those assigned to the deposit-based programs actually enrolled.

Overall, findings suggest that adding cash incentives to smoking cessation programs drastically increases smokers’ chances of quitting. However, rewards-based programs are much more appealing than deposit-based programs, which require smokers to risk their own money. This study suggests that adults are hesitant to put up their own money as part of a deposit program, especially when they risk losing it if they don’t successfully quit. Since deposits may create a barrier to enrollment, rewards-based programs may be the best way for employers to help smokers kick the habit and improve their health.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What smoking cessation aids exist to help smokers quit?

  • A variety of tools exist to help smokers quit. Aside from quitting cold turkey without the use of aids, adults can be prescribed smoking cessation drugs that help to fight nicotine withdrawal and tobacco cravings. There are also various types of nicotine replacement therapy, including patches, inhalers, lozenges, gum and nasal spray that can help wean smokers off of cigarettes.
  • Are the health effects of smoking irreversible?

  • Absolutely not. Smokers experience many benefits by quitting, some of which begin just minutes after stopping smoking. Twenty minutes after quitting, blood pressure and heart rate will drop, and the benefits continue to improve over time. One year after quitting, risk of heart disease will be half that of a smoker; within years, risk for stroke, heart disease and other health conditions can equal that of a non-smoker.

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