CVS study on smoking cessation: When money is on the line, it encourages smokers to quit

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CVS Pharmacies, which is well-known for pulling all tobacco products out of its chain of drug stores, recently helped with a study on smoking cessation with some interesting results.

Participants in the study were actually recruited by CVS, which apparently is very serious about combating tobacco use. Participants were offered a variety of incentives to quit smoking and one of the conclusions of the study published in the New England Journal of Medicine is that it appears that providing a financial incentive to quit worked much better than expected.

Smokers were given a choice of which program to participate in. One scenario had smokers give a $150 deposit, and they would receive their deposit back, plus a $650 bonus if they quit. The other simply offered an $800 payment if they quit.

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Only a small percentage of people agreed to the deposit, but those that did were much more successful than the group vying for the $800 reward. So, the incentive of not wanting to lose money seemed to have more power than winning money you didn’t already have.

“People don’t want to part with their money,” Dr. Scott Halpern, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine who led the study, explained to NBC News. “Among those who would have accepted either program, the deposit-based programs were twice as effective as the rewards-based programs and five times more effective than the standard of care which was provision of free access to behavior modification therapy and nicotine replacement therapy.”

While overall, the financial reward/penalty group had a low rate of success in quitting smoking, it still had a higher success rate than people being offered Nicorette or nicotine patches.

CVS is going to put this idea into practice. The company will offer its employees a $700 bonus if they quit smoking (plus the return of a $50 deposit.).

More companies are providing financial incentives on health coverage for smokers to quit. Also, this someone backs up a point I’ve made for several years — one of the benefits of raising taxes on cigarettes (and one of the quiet benefits of the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement, which helped raise the cost of cigarettes) is that it does work to encourage smokers to quit. When smokers realize they’re spending $50-$100 or more a week on cigarettes, that’s a real-world incentive to quit.

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