NEJM Paper on Financial Incentives for Smoking Cessation
A decade ago, there was no shortage of skeptics about the idea of paying people to stop smoking. But an intrepid group of researchers joined forces with General Electric to carefully design and deliver a workplace intervention of financial incentives. In a randomized trial among GE employees, the group found that a bundle of incentives worth $750 nearly tripled smoking cessation rates. The incentives helped people complete smoking cessation programs and stay smoke-free. Nearly 15% had quit in nine to 12 months, compared with 5% of people in the control group. And the intervention had staying power, even after the incentives ended. After 15-18 months, the incentive group had quit rates that were significantly higher than the control group (9.4% vs. 3.6%).
The investigators, led by Kevin Volpp and David Asch, published their results in the New England Journal of Medicine. GE was so impressed that it implemented a program based on this approach for its 152,000 employees in the U.S.
The study received the 2010 British Medical Journal Group Award for Translating Research into Practice, and longtime LDI Executive Director David Asch accepted the award in London (in a tux, no less). The study was one of the first to apply behavioral economic principles to the design of financial incentives in the workplace, and was a foundation for many other health interventions developed by the Center for Health Incentives and Behavioral Economics.