Feb. 11, 2009 -- No matter how much people are told about the hazards of cigarette smoking, cold hard cash may be the best motivator to get people to quit, a new study suggests.
University of Pennsylvania enrolled 878 employees of a multinational company in a smoking-cessation program. They were assigned randomly to one of two groups: 442 employees received information about the benefits of quitting, and 436 were told they would receive money in addition to participation in educational programs.
Financial incentives were $100 for completing an educational session, $250 for quitting smoking within six months (as confirmed by a biochemical test), and $400 for biochemically confirmed abstinence for an additional six months.
The researchers found that employees given financial incentives to quit were much more likely to give up the habit than colleagues who only received information.
The nine- or 12-month quitting rate, as confirmed by testing, was 14.7% in the incentive group, compared to only 5% in the group that only received information, say the study researchers, led by Kevin G. Volpp, MD, of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.
"The [financial] incentive group had significantly higher rates of smoking cessation than did the information-only group nine or 12 months after enrollment," the researchers say.
"Incentive-group participants also had significantly higher rates of enrollment in a smoking cessation program, completion of a smoking cessation program and smoking cessation within the first six months after enrollment."
At a 15- or 18-month follow-up, 9.4% of the incentive group had remained quitters, nearly three times the rate of the information-only group.
The researchers suggest that employers might do well to offer financial incentives to get employees to quit because the financial benefit to employers of workers quitting smoking is about $3,400 per year.
The study appears in the Feb. 12 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
Volpp and one of his colleagues report receiving fees from health insurance organizations, pharmaceutical firms, or both.