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Half of smokers would quit if given a financial incentive

Katie O'Malley

Giving people a financial incentive will make half of smokers quit, new research finds.

A study carried out by scientists from the University of East Anglia’s Norwich Medical School examined whether money is a viable solution in helping individuals stop smoking.

Researchers of the study, which is published in the Cochrane Library, reviewed data from 33 trials in eight countries, involving more than 21,600 participants, including pregnant women.

Half of the participants who were smokers were selected at random to receive a cash incentive, shopping vouches, or the return of a deposit.

Ten of the trials focussed on pregnant smokers who were rewarded with vouchers for quitting and staying smoke-free.

The sums involved varied in the study, from zero and £912 ($1,185).

The study’s researchers monitored the participants for at least six months and tested their breath or bodily fluids to check those who said they had quit.

The scientists found that six months or more after the beginning of the trials, people receiving rewards were approximately 50 per cent more likely to have stopped smoking that those in the control groups.

“In people not receiving incentives, approximately seven per cent had successfully quit for six months or longer, compared to approximately 10.5 per cent of those receiving incentives,” stated Dr Caitlin Notley, the study’s lead author from the University of East Anglia’s Norwich Medical School.

“This is an important increase when we consider the enormous harms of smoking, and benefits of quitting, and suggests that incentives can be a useful part of a comprehensive approach to help people quit smoking.”

Dr Notley added that success rates continued for participants beyond when the incentives had ended, providing “strong evidence” that financial incentives to help people stop smoking works in the long term.

Pregnant woman quits smoking (iStock)

As for pregnant women, the researchers also found that women in the rewards groups were more likely to stop smoking than those in control groups, both at the end of the pregnancy and after the birth of the baby.

Dr Notley says this suggests that incentives may be ”a useful part of a comprehensive approach to helping pregnant women quit smoking”.

Smoking is one of the biggest causes of death and illness in the UK, the NHS states.

The organisation estimates that around 78,000 people in the UK die from smoking and that the habit increases the risk of developing more than 50 serious health conditions including cancer of the lung, mouth, and throat.

Stopping smoking in pregnancy reduces the risk of complications in pregnancy and birth, the risk of stillbirth, and will mean a baby is less likely to beborn premature, the NHS explains.

Dr Notley said that smoking costs the UK economy around £13bn, “including over £3bn for NHS and social care and £7.5bn to lost productivity”.

“So these types of schemes could help save money as well as lives,” the expert added.

Over the years, there have been several schemes across the UK offering financial incentives to pregnant women to stop smoking.

In 2017, pregnant women in Greater Manchester were offered up to £300 in shopping vouchers if they give up smoking as part of the as part of the BabyClear scheme, which follows National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidance around smoking in pregnancy by screening all pregnant women for smoking using carbon monoxide monitoring.

New mums were required to prive they had been smoke-free for 12 weeks after birth to be entitled to the vouchers, Greater Manchester Health and Social Care (GMHSC) Partnership said at the time.

However, the TaxPayers’ Alliance described the incentives as “crude bribes”.

Another trial in 2015, which involved more than 600 women in Glasgow, found that smokers who were paid up to £400 in shopping vouchers were more than twice as likely to quit.