Mo’ money, fewer problems

Quitting cigarette smoking is not easy. While there are numerous options out there such as counseling and nicotine replacement, these do not always work. However, researchers may have finally found one method that could work well for most people.

And it involves cold, hard cash.

The trick? Paying people to quit smoking. Well, sort of. Scot Halpern and his team of researchers recently investigated how financial incentives could help people quit smoking. Using CVS employees and their friends/family as test subjects, the researchers ran four different experiments to see how adding financial incentives to nicotine replacement and counseling can help people quit smoking. The four experiments went as follows:

  1. If you quit smoking for 6 months, you get $800.
  2. You pay $150 at the start, and if you quit smoking for 6 months you get your deposit back plus an additional $650
  3. People are put into groups of 6 and encouraged to interact on Facebook. There are three payouts: at 14 days, 30 days, and six months. For every person that quits by each time point, you get $100 per person. If you make it to 6 months, you get an extra $200 reward. So if everybody quits from day 14 for all 6 months, then everyone gets $2000!
  4. You pay $150 at the start and are placed into a group with 5 others. The payouts are the same as in experiment three, except that you get $100 more for everyone who DOESN’T quit.

Once volunteers were assigned to one of these experiments, they then had the option to actually go ahead and participate or not. Not surprisingly, the experiments requiring a deposit were not as popular as the ones based solely on rewards. However, making people deposit money was TWICE as effective as the pure reward experiments in getting people to quit. Not to mention, it worked 5 times better than just normal interventions alone. At the end of the day, though, because so few people signed up for the deposit experiment, the overall most effective method ended up being experiment 1.

More importantly, this study agrees with past data showing financial incentives work well in helping smokers to quit. In fact, GE funded a similar study involving $750 incentives, and showed that the financial incentives worked three times better than just normal interventions alone.

However, like all good things in life, there’s a catch to all this. Even in the CVS study, around half of the participants across all groups who had quit, went back to smoking a year later. Still, what these studies clearly show is that if you want people to quit, then “Mo’ money, fewer problems” seems to be a pretty good approach.

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