Cash incentives help employees quit smoking

Smokers are more likely to quit if they are offered a cash incentive, according to a new study offering the strongest evidence tying monetary rewards to behavioral changes.

The study, led by a team from the University of Pennsylvania and published by the New England Journal of Medicine, is one of the largest of its kind.

Researchers tracked 878 General Electric Co. employees from across the U.S. for 18 months in 2005 and 2006. Each employee involved in the study smoked an average of one pack of cigarettes a day. They were divided into two groups and all received information regarding smoking-cessation programs.

Members of one group received cash incentives for completing each step of the program: $100 for finishing a smoking-cessation course, $250 if they quit smoking within six months, and $400 for continuing to not smoke for another six months.

Almost 15% of the group who were offered money to stop smoking had quit within the first year of the study, only 5% of the other group had done the same. At the end of the 18-month study, 9% of the paid group was still not smoking compared to only about 4% of the non-paid group.

From the Wall Street Journal article:
Loretta Massie-Eaton, a 53-year-old administrative assistant who works for GE in Atlanta, said encouragement from her 14-year-old son, Harrison, was the main reason she decided to participate. But money was also a motivation, she said. "It was the satisfaction of sticking to the commitment and getting reimbursed for doing it," said Ms. Massie-Eaton, who says she hasn't had a cigarette since taking part in the study more than two years ago.

Ric Barton, a GE lighting specialist from Cleveland, said he had been thinking about quitting before the study. A smoker for four decades, the 62-year-old said finding places to light up had become increasingly difficult and he was tired of rising cigarette prices. "It was icing for me to get a monetary reward for something I was already planning to do," Mr. Barton said.

Statistics show that helping employees quit smoking is worth the investment for companies. Smoking costs employers $3,400 per smoking employee per year in health-care bills, reduced productivity and absenteeism, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Researchers not involved in the study commented that the latest findings show that incentives work and give employers hard evidence that incentive programs can help companies save money on employee health-care costs.

“You’d prefer not to pay them, but it’s worth it,” said Helen Darling, president of the National Business Group on Health professional organization.

Related posts:

Help employees quit smoking, participate in the Great American Smokeout

Workplace smoking policies: When employees lie

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