Paying people to quit smoking. Does it work?

shutterstock_110076689

shutterstock_110076689

Smoking is a major cause of heart attacks, strokes, emphysema, and lung cancer. Smoking rates have steadily declined in the U.S. in the last 50 years, but about a fifth of U.S. adults still smoke. Helping them quit would make a major contribution to their health.

A study in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) studied the effectiveness of different incentive programs on smoking cessation. Over 2,500 smokers were randomized into three groups. One group received “usual care,” meaning encouragement to quit smoking and information about quitting programs and nicotine replacement products. Another group was invited to join a “reward program” in which each subject who successfully quit smoking for six months received an $800 reward. The third group was invited to join a “deposit program” in which each subject had to pay $150 which would be forfeited if the subject kept smoking. If the subject quit smoking for six months, however, she would receive her deposit back and an additional $650.

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