Whether they may be physical or figurative in nature, there have been many tools suggested over the years as ways to help people quit smoking. But the best tool of them all just might be cold, hard cash, according to a recently published study that involved thousands of smokers from several U.S.-based companies.
In a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine earlier this week, a team of researchers led by University of Pennsylvania associate professor Scott Halpern observed a total of 6,006 smokers at 54 different U.S. companies, to see how well they responded to a variety of anti-smoking tools. Out of these workers, 1,191 were classified as “willing to quit” smoking and were placed in groups based on different smoking cessation strategies.
The least successful tools, as suggested by the study, were positive words of encouragement and documents explaining the benefits of quitting smoking, as only 1 percent of the smokers given those tools ended up quitting for six months. About 2.9 percent of those who were given anti-smoking patches, gum, and lozenges quit, followed by 4.8 percent of the smokers who were given free e-cigarettes. None of those methods, the study indicated, were close to being as effective as an actual financial reward, or the threat of having such money taken away.
According to Fortune, two groups were given cash incentives in order to quit smoking, with one given a mix of smoking cessation items and a staggered series of cash rewards — $100 for the first cigarette-free month, $200 for the third month, and $300 for the sixth month. About 9.5 percent of the people in that group quit as of the six-month period. The second cash group was given their choice of smoking cessation item, and $600 placed in an account that would be taken away if they kept smoking for the duration of the study. The threat seemed to encourage more people to quit, as 12.7 percent of the smokers in that group were smoke-free at the end of the study period.
Commenting on the study’s results, Halpern said that the research proved how people are more motivated by the threat of losing money than the prospect of earning it.
“People are much more motivated to avoid losing $100 than they are to gain $100, even though, economically, they are flip sides of the same coin.”
As noted by CBS News, the study came with its share of critics, including Massachusetts General Hospital tobacco research and treatment center director Dr. Nancy Rigotti, who said that she believes the counseling and verbal support offered to the smokers might have been “inadequate,” hence the low rate of smokers who quit after being provided such tools, as well as the anti-smoking literature. American Vaping Association head Gregory Conley also offered his own critical comments about the study, saying that Halpern’s team used “pathetic” and obsolete methods to help convince people to quit smoking.