Skin in the Game II

March 11th, 2009 | Sources: NEJM, Wall Street Journal

Still basking in the glow of their study showing that financial incentives helped obese volunteers lose weight, Kevin Volpp and Co. are reporting that cash rewards help people quit smoking cigarettes too.

wewonVolpp’s team randomized 878 GE employees who smoked a pack-a-day into 2 groups.

Controls got information regarding smoking-cessation programs while the incentive group received up to $750 in cash as well.

Payouts to the incentive group participants were pegged to milestones: completing a stop-smoking program was worth $100, stopping smoking within 6 months of the enrollment date earned an additional $250, and continued abstinence for 6 months scored $400.

Claims by participants that they had quit were verified with cotinine tests. The study is in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The scientists reported that 14.7% of people in the financial incentive group quit smoking within a year, whereas only 5% in the control group had done so. At 18 months following randomization, abstainers comprised 9.4% of the paid group and 3.6% in controls.

“It was icing for me to get a monetary reward for something I was already planning to do,” GE lighting specialist Ric Barton told the Wall Street Journal.

Meanwhile, Bob Galvin, GE’s chief medical officer and a research team member said the study’s findings convinced him to implement an incentive plan for all US-based cigarette smoking employees beginning next year.

But to its credit, Volpp’s team was a bit circumspect in their write-up. The team noted that most study participants were white, well-educated, and relatively wealthy, and cautioned against extrapolating the findings to other demographic groups.

And Kenneth Warner, the University of Michigan Tobacco Research Network director worried that high recidivism might obligate companies to continue paying ex-smokers for years.

Is it too late to add that to the stimulus?


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