Harvard Mental Health Letter

Commentary: Providing rewards for smokers who want to quit

Commentary

Providing rewards for smokers who want to quit

 It's easy to quit smoking. I've done it many times.

This old joke is reality for the almost three-quarters of current smokers who want to quit. Sadly, fewer than 3% of them succeed, because the well-known dangers of smoking turn out to be easy to ignore. Researchers publishing in the Archives of Internal Medicine and The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) have demonstrated that smoking-cessation can be facilitated by providing quick rewards to those who want to quit. In other words, tangible short-term gains seem to be more motivating than ambiguous promises of improved health and fitness at some unspecified future time.

Volpp and colleagues writing in NEJM paid people to quit. They recruited almost 900 smokers into smoke-ending programs. Half of the subjects could earn payments for completing the program and staying smoke-free. The payouts came in three stages; by the time of completion, successful participants received a total of $750. The researchers protected against cheating by confirming abstinence through a biochemical test.

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