February 12, 2009

Cash Incentives Help People Stop Smoking

Nearly half a million people die every year from tobacco use in the United States.

A recent study has shown that people were three times more likely to stay off cigarettes for at least six months if they were rewarded with up to $750, Reuters reported.

The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, polled 878 General Electric workers at 85 different facilities around the United States to further test earlier studies on cash incentives.

Dr. Kevin Volpp of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, who led the research, said previous studies suggested that cash incentives did not work, but those tests had been smaller and the rewards had been as little as $10.

But Volpp said incentive programs do work if they're well designed and adequately funded. "If you do a low-budget incentive program, it may have little effect," he added.

And while 70 percent of smokers in the United States say they want to quit, Volpp said only about two or three percent per year actually do.

"Smoking-cessation programs do not have a high success rate."

"Our study shows that if you're able to get people smoke-free and keep them smoke-free for six months or more, there's a fighting chance they can stay smoke-free on their own," he said.

Insurance companies and employers would also benefit, according to a 2002 estimate that suggested having a worker quit is worth $3,400 in increased productivity and reduced illness.

Volpp's study looked at mostly highly educated white volunteers. Further studies are needed to tell whether the new findings would apply to other groups, or whether the size of the payment would affect the rate of success.

The volunteers in the study were first informed about smoking-cessation programs. Throughout the study, they were asked to take a saliva or urine test so the researchers could tell if they had been smoking or not.

Half of the participants were paid $100 for completing one, $250 for actually quitting smoking, and $400 for staying off cigarettes for at least six months.

The chance of earning money resulted in three times as many people participating in a stop-smoking program, as did those who were just told about the program.

The study showed 14.7 percent of participants who earned the money were still off cigarettes six months later, compared to 5 percent who got no reward.


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