Smoking is bad for the health, but many smokers find it difficult to quit the habit. It appears, however, that financial incentive programs could help people quit smoking especially if the incentive is high enough.

In a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine on May 13, researchers had more than 2,500 individuals assigned to one of these groups that provide an offer or reward to quit the unhealthy habit: an individual reward that is based on individual performance; collaborative reward based on group performance; individual deposit, which requires a $150 upfront deposit; competitive deposit, and usual care, which includes free smoking cessation aids.

The researchers found that financial incentive has greatly boosted the chances of the smokers to break the habit. Compared with the participants who were given the usual care, those who were given the prospect of financial reward had increased likelihood to quit smoking six months after they first quit.

"Although the need to make monetary deposits deters some people from participating," said study researcher Scott Halpern from the Perelman School of Medicine of the University of Pennsylvania. "Deposit-requiring incentive programs can produce robust, long-term results in helping to change complex health behaviors."

The researchers likewise found that the type of reward could affect the participants' chances of success. They found that reward-based programs tend to be more effective compared with deposits because more people accepted them.

Ninety percent of the participants accepted the assignment in the reward-based programs while a mere 14 percent of the participants who were assigned to the deposit-based programs did.

Sixteen percent in those under the rewards program remained smoke-free for six months and only 10 percent in those under the deposit programs. Of those under the usual care group, only 6 percent of the participants remained smoke-free for half a year. The researchers likewise found that group-oriented programs were not significantly more successful when compared with individual-oriented programs.

"Reward-based programs were much more commonly accepted than deposit-based programs, leading to higher rates of sustained abstinence from smoking," the researchers wrote in their study. "Group-oriented incentive programs were no more effective than individual-oriented programs."

Based on the results of the study, CVS Health will launch a campaign dubbed "700 Good Reasons," wherein all employees who smoke can deposit $50. Once they tested negative for tobacco a year later, they will receive not just their $50 but another $700 as well.

Photo: Fried Dough | Flickr

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