Small Financial Incentives Help Some Low-Income Smokers Quit

Small financial incentives can double smoking cessation rates among low-income smokers, according to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health last week.

“We wanted to investigate how small and potentially cost-effective financial incentives might help safety net hospital patients quit smoking,” said Darla Kendzor, assistant professor at the University of Texas School of Public Health, Dallas Regional Campus and the lead author of the study.

The researchers enrolled patients in a Dallas smoking cessation clinic from 2011 to 2013. Participants were randomly assigned to either usual clinic care or the intervention group. Usual care included an educational orientation session, weekly support group meetings, physician visits and drug or nicotine treatment. The intervention group received usual care plus $20 in gift cards for not smoking on their quit date, with a potential total of $150 in gift cards if they continued not smoking for four weeks following their quit date.

Almost half of the patients in the incentive group quit smoking, nearly double the 25 percent success rate for patients getting usual care. Twelve weeks after the quit date and eight weeks after incentives ended, 33 percent of the incentives group were still not smoking, compared to only 14 percent of the usual care group.

“We found that women assigned to the financial incentives intervention had the highest cessation rates, which was surprising because women often have lower cessation rates than men participating in treatment,” said Kendzor, who hopes to evaluate the longer-term effects of financial incentives on smoking cessation by following participants for six months or longer.

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