Paying smokers to quit may prove successful



A new study shows that financial inducements may help smokers overcome the habit.

“In relatively low-income smokers who did not receive face-to-face counseling or medications, large financial incentives increase long-term smoking cessation rates,” said lead researcher Jean-Francois Etter, a professor of public health at the Institute of Global Health of the University of Geneva.

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The study involved 805 low-income smokers who wanted to quit smoking. They were randomly assigned to receive no pay or payments that increased incrementally for confirmed abstinence.

In this pay-to-quit programme, Swiss researchers found 44 per cent of smokers who received money had been abstinent continuously, compared with six per cent of those not paid. The maximum amount doled out was $1,650.

“Large financial incentives should be further used and tested in studies aimed at documenting the health care costs across a wide array of socioeconomic groups,” Etter said, in light of the findings.

“Paying smokers to quit has been found to increase quitting, at least in the short-term,” said Judith Prochaska, an associate professor of medicine at Stanford University Medical School in California.

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However, key questions remain, she added. “For example, how large and frequent do the payments need to be?”she asks. Also, she questioned whether it might be better to pay for participation in quit-smoking programmes to build skills and internal motivation, rather than just the outcome of quitting?

Despite the cost, payments may be a productive alternative for certain smokers, Prochaska said. But existing tobacco treatment approaches with medication and counseling may be more accessible for better-educated working people with health insurance, she added.

“Because smoking is increasingly concentrated among people with less education and income, reward-based programmes have the potential to address growing disparities in tobacco use and tobacco-related diseases,” Prochaska said.

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Tobacco addiction is an entrenched societal harm that requires a multi-pronged approach, she said. “An appropriate approach would combine pharmacological, motivational, and behavioral treatments; policies, such as taxation and clean air laws; and new innovations and technologies would help achieve great results,” she added.

This article originally appears on US News.

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