Paying you to quit

On February 12, 2009, in behavior, economics, risk factors, by Karen Grepin


The result of an interesting randomized study on smoking cessation were just published in the New England Journal. Smoking is the leading preventable cause of premature death in the United States with nearly 438,000 deaths each year directly attributed to this disease. Globally, it is also one of the leading risk factors for death and is on the rise. When you ask American smokers nearly 70% say that they want to quit, but only 2-3% succeed each year in doing so.

In this study, workers at a large company were randomized to receive an incentive to quit smoking. They received $100 for completing of a smoking-cessation program, $250 for remaining smoke free after 6 months, and another $400 for an additional 6 months of remaining smoke free. Most smokers trying to quit relapse within the first few months, so getting people through a year means that there is a good chance they will remain smoke free. To qualify for the incentives, smokers had to be certified smoke free using a biochemical test.

The workers receiving the incentives were almost 10% more likely to be smoke free after one year relative to the control group (who were also able to attend the smoking-cessation program). I have no idea how much a pack of cigarettes goes for these days, but say it is about $5 a pack. On average these people in the program were smoking about a pack a day, or $150 a month or about $1825 a year for cigarettes. In theory, if you have about a 10% additional chance of staying smoke free after one year (and you get the savings for life) we should almost be able to charge people themselves for the service to force them to quit. If you factor in the costs to the employer of lost productivity/sick days/additional health insurance and to the public for the cost of treating these people/second hand smoke, there are some really good reasons why we might want to really seriously consider these types of incentives.

It is this type of research that lead to a site like stickK which allows you to structure your own types of contract with yourself to help you do things that you want to do. Unfortunately, I have a low sensitivity to these types of contracts and unfortunately donated a few hundred bucks last year to the NRA due to my inability to get on the treadmill regularly….but check it out.

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