According to research, giving financial rewards to smokers who give up cigarettes could help more people quit. The results found that smokers could be 50% more likely to quit if they were offered a cash incentive. However, this quit smoking reward initiative does have its critics.
The UK currently has the second-lowest smoking rate in Europe, beaten only by Sweden. Much of this success has been attributed to the rise of vaping. It has been reported that the government now has a target of making the UK smoke-free by 2030. As well as utilising e-cigarettes, another method which could be explored is cash rewards for quitters. This would involve smokers being given cash or gift vouchers as rewards for abstaining from cigarettes.
Would a quit smoking reward work?
This initiative has been dismissed in the past, however, it has recently been re-explored by researchers. Dr Caitlin Notley of University of East Anglia’s medical school was the lead author on the study. The study spanned across eight different countries and consisted of 33 trials. Over 21,000 participants took part, including pregnant women.
The research suggested that smokers were 50% more likely to quit if they were offered a financial incentive. This would, of course, be an expense to the taxpayer, however, Notley backed the research and explained that the money saved by the NHS, as a result of smokers giving up, would massively outweigh the expenditure of the rewards. Smoking reportedly costs the NHS £3bn a year and costs the economy as a whole, £13bn a year. The cash incentives which were trialled, varied from £35 to £912. The research showed that the value of the cash sum didn’t affect the likelihood of the participant quitting. Dr Caitlin Notley said,
“In comparison to the total amount that the NHS has to set aside in the UK for smoking-related diseases, the cost of providing incentives is incredibly small in comparison.”
Dr Penny Woods, the chief executive of the British Lung Foundation, said:
“Offering financial incentives to help people quit smoking has been dismissed in the past, so it’s fantastic to see strong evidence that these innovative schemes work.“Local authorities should consider this new research when designing comprehensive stop smoking services, as it could help target those in our communities who struggle the most to give up cigarettes.”
What are the drawbacks?
A quit smoking reward does have its drawbacks. Those who have already quit smoking and may have even paid for prescriptions for NRTs may feel hard done by. It may seem unfair to them that they were not given this opportunity when trying to give up.
The theory also doesn’t seem very empowering. Previous research showed that the incentives only really worked for the time when they were being given. Meaning that after the incentives stopped the participant would return to smoking. However, Notley claims that in the new research, the findings were based on long-term results. She said,
“Incentives support people in the early stages of trying to quit smoking, which is the most difficult, and once people have made that health behaviour change and the incentives are removed, they’re more likely to stay abstinent from smoking in the longer term”
Although the results seem positive in the trial stage, it’s unknown what would happen in the real world. It could be argued that smokers should really be quitting because they want to not because they’re being forced to or bribed. Experts suggest that this is why e-cigarettes have been so successful. Vaping empowers smokers and puts the decision in their hands by offering a suitable alternative. Dr Caitlin Notley did explain that this stop smoking reward wouldn’t work for everyone and that a range of options, including e-cigarettes, should be utilised.
Chris Green, Totally Wicked cessation lead said, “I’m in favour of any strategy that helps people quit smoking but I do have my doubts about cash incentives. Millions of people have jobs they may not particularly like but are rewarded by cash for doing so. If you took away the incentive and stopped paying them, would they continue to go. I’m sure cash for quits will attract many smokers to give it a go but it will be interesting to look at re-lapse rates a month after the cash stops.”