Incentives Help Beat Smoking
A new study provides some of the strongest evidence to date that financial incentives can change health-related behavior, a finding that could have a large impact on corporate wellness programs.
According to the study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, smokers are more than twice as likely to quit successfully if they receive a cash reward. Less than 3 percent of smokers who typically try to quit succeed. Smoking kills about 480,000 Americans a year.
In the study, reports the Wall Street Journal, smokers were paid up to $750 over several months for abstaining from smoking. After 18 months, 9.4 percent of those receiving cash incentives had refrained from smoking a cigarette, compared to 3.6 percent of those people who did not get any money. Both groups of people enrolled in smoking cessation classes.
The cost of smoking to employers is $3,400 a year, per employee, in health care bills and lost work, according to the Centers for Disease Prevention. Incentives have the potential to save employers a lot of money.
“You prefer not to pay [smokers], but it’s worth it,” says Helen Darling, president of the National Business Group on Health.
What Does This Mean for Wellness Professionals?
General Electric, whose chief scientist was part of the study’s research team, is so convinced by the results it is building an incentive plan for all 152,000 US employees. Some points to keep in mind for any employer following suit:
- Gather data on all employees so you can measure effectiveness.
- The employees in the study group were mostly well-educated, upper middle class whites. Realize that it is hard to predict whether other demographic groups will have similar results.
- Be prepared to keep paying smokers for a extended time to assure continued abstinence.