Lower earners smoke more than higher earners and could be particularly receptive to financial incentives to give up, according to researchers in Switzerland. But is the promise of money enough to make them quit for good?
Financial incentives work just as well as medication or aids such as nicotine patches, concluded a team of scientists led by Jean-François Etter, professor of public health at the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Geneva. Combined, the various methods could be even more effective.
The research, published on Monday in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, involved 800 smokers from the Geneva region who all earned less than CHF50,000 ($51,300) a year.
These were then divided into two groups. Both were trying to give up smoking but one group was offered supermarket vouchers of increasing value the longer they didn’t touch a cigarette, starting with CHF100 ($103) for one week and CHF1,500 for whoever managed to go without for six months.
To ensure that participants weren’t lighting up on the sly, the researchers carried out biochemical tests after the first week and then later with increasing gaps.
The financial incentives stopped after six months, but the researchers checked in with the participants after 18 months to see whether they had given up for good.
More than half (55%) of the group that had received vouchers stayed cigarette-free for the first three months; in the other group, the figure was only 12%.
After six months, the rates were 45% and 11% respectively.
But after the financial incentives stopped, most people started smoking again: after 18 months, only 9.5% of the voucher group had not touched a cigarette. However, that was still 5.8 percentage points higher than the other group. A similar result is seen with medical aids.
Jean-François Etter said extending the incentives over a longer period could reduce the number of people who take up smoking again.
He said the financing for such a programme could come for example from the government’s tobacco control fundexternal link, which receives CHF0.026 from every packet of cigarettes sold. This makes some CHF13.5 million a year available for tobacco control measures, the fund says.
“Although the financial incentive approach would be more expensive than that with medication, it could still be cost-effective given the enormous health costs caused by smoking,” Etter said.
swissinfo.ch and agencies