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Financial incentives prove effective in helping people quit smoking

According to a new study from the University of East Anglia (UEA), financial rewards help people stop smoking and remain smoke-free in the long term. Overall, individuals who received monetary incentives were found to be 50 percent more likely to kick the habit. 

“Smoking is the leading cause of disease and death worldwide. Most smokers want to quit, but stopping smoking can be really challenging,” said study lead author Dr. Caitlin Notley.

“Quitting smoking can greatly improve peoples’ health. Rewards, such as money or vouchers, have been used to encourage smokers to quit, and to reward them if they stay stopped. Such schemes have been used in workplaces, in clinics and hospitals, and within community programs.”

“We wanted to know whether these schemes actually work long term, as previously it was thought that perhaps incentives only worked for the time that they were given. We found that they do help people stay smoke free, even after the incentive scheme ends.”

“The cost of smoking to the economy is huge – around £13 billion to the UK economy, including over £3 billion for NHS and social care and £7.5 billion to lost productivity. So these types of schemes could help save money as well as lives.”

The research was focused on the results of 33 randomized trials including more than 21,000 people across eight countries. In ten of the trials, pregnant women were rewarded with vouchers for giving up smoking.

The studies followed participants for at least six months, including breath and body fluid tests to determine whether participants were able to follow through with their commitment.

“We found that six months or more after the beginning of the trials, people receiving rewards were approximately 50 percent more likely to have stopped smoking than those in the control groups,” said Dr. Notley.

“In people not receiving incentives, approximately seven percent had successfully quit for six months or longer, compared to approximately 10.5 per cent of those receiving incentives.”

“This is an important increase when we consider the enormous harms of smoking, and benefits of quitting, and suggests that incentives can be a useful part of a comprehensive approach to help people quit smoking. Another really important thing is that success rates continued beyond when the incentives had ended.”

Dr. Notley added that pregnant women in the rewards groups were more likely to stop smoking than those in control groups, both at the end of the pregnancy and after the birth of the baby.

“Stopping smoking during pregnancy is the best thing that women can do to improve their chances of having a healthy pregnancy. Staying stopped after the birth has great benefits for babies too, through avoiding exposure to second hand smoke.”

The study is published in the journal Cochrane Library.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

Image Credit: Shutterstock/Mita Stock Images

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