Offering Money to Smokers to Quit Pays Off, Study Finds

Offering financial incentives to smokers to quit is more effective than offering free counseling and nicotine replacement therapy, a new study concludes.

More than 2,500 CVS Health employees participated in the study. They were assigned to one of five groups: individual reward (based on their own performance); collaborative reward (based on their group’s performance); individual deposit (requiring an upfront deposit of $150 with subsequent matching funds); competitive deposit (competing for other participants’ deposits and matching funds) or usual care (including free smoking cessation aids and informational resources).

The researchers found 16 percent of those assigned to reward programs were still smoke free after six months, compared with 10 percent in the deposit programs and 6 percent in the usual care group, HealthDay reports. The group-oriented programs were not significantly more successful than the individual-oriented programs, which surprised the researchers.

Although participants assigned to groups requiring an upfront deposit were more likely to decline participation than those in the pure incentive-based programs, deposit programs led to almost twice the rate of smoking cessation at six months among those who would have accepted either type of program.

The findings appear in the New England Journal of Medicine.

CVS Health will launch an employee smoking cessation program based on the study’s results. The program, called “700 Good Reasons,” will invite employees who smoke to deposit $50. If they test negative for tobacco 12 months later, they will get back their $50 plus $700 more.

“When compared to the estimated $4,000 to 6,000 incremental annual cost associated with employing a smoker over a non-smoker, a $700 to 800 incentive paid only to those who quit seems well worth the cost,” senior author Kevin Volpp, MD, PhD said in a news release.