R9,000 Reward Makes Good Case Against Smoking

May 15, 2015 TimesLIVE

By Katharine Child

If you want your spouse to stop smoking‚ pay them at least R9000.

A study in the New England Journal of Medicine‚ showed that employees of the US pharmaceutical franchise CVS were three times more likely to quit smoking when rewarded with $800 than those who didn’t get cash.

More than 2500 people‚ who smoked at least five cigarettes a day and had some interest in quitting‚ were recruited for the study. The puffers divided into four groups and offered different rewards in an attempt to work out what the best incentives were to quit their unhealthy‚ addictive habit.

Participants in two of the four groups had to pay a deposit of $150 dollars that would be refunded only if they stopped smoking. They would also get an additional $650 for quitting. The most popular reward system in the study was the payment of $800 to quitters‚ no deposit required. The $150 deposit option was rejected by most participants who chose to keep on smoking.

But those who did choose to pay the deposit and risk losing it if they carried on smoking were the most likely to kick the habit.

“The results are fully consistent with the behavioural theory that people are typically more motivated to avoid losses than to seek gains. Although the need to make monetary deposits deters some people from participating‚ deposit-requiring incentive programmes can produce robust‚ long-term results in helping to change complex health behaviours‚” said Scott Halpern‚ assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania‚ United States‚ and lead author of the study.

Salvia or urine test were taken from participants to prove they had stopped smoking.

Half of the participants who had stopped smoking six months after the study started‚ resumed within the next few months. This‚ too‚ is in line with similar studies.

Using rewards to encourage good behaviour is based on the field of behavioural economics and is becoming more popular in the healthcare industry.

In South Africa‚ Vitality points are given for exercising‚ buying healthy food or completing health screening tests. Various medical aids offer cheaper gym memberships in an attempt to get people moving‚ but membership to these become more expensive when not used.

Professor Derek Yach‚ of the New York-based Vitality Institute‚ said the team designing health incentives was working with the team running the smoking research programme.

Yach‚ a South African‚ said it was realistic to use money to help smokers quit and the idea was in line with American Affordable Health Care Act‚ known as Obamacare. “Compare the modest costs of the incentives to the huge financial costs of lung cancer and heart disease they prevent.”

In South Africa about 16% of adults smoke.


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Image credit: Gallo Images/ Thinkstock via TimesLIVE

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