I see a show of hands at the back over there. Okay fine, everybody is raising their hands. All kidding aside, we might call it an experiment in personal behavioral economics. Many have undertaken very similar research in various forms. Here are some of them that I find to be genuinely very interesting.
Some studies have opted to use what I’d loosely term as the ‘savings method’ such as in the study by Xavier Gine, Dean Karlan and Jonathan Zinman in the American Economic Journal. In “Put Your Money Where Your Butt Is: A Commitment Contract for Smoking Cessation“, the researchers asked smokers to open a savings account where they have to commit to stop smoking. They are routinely tested for traces of nicotine and if they fail, the money that they put there goes to charity.
The study even quoted Mark Twain, “Quitting smoking is easy, I’ve done it a thousand times.”
More than any reference towards money or greed as a motivator for people, using monetary rewards does have a profound effect on the individual. It makes sense. To put it bluntly, yes, money can be used to motivate people because that is how most societies are structured. If people were willing to work only in exchange for food on its own, we’d have less working hours because they’d be content with the food that they have. But if you used money and things to motivate people, they’d have to work harder to get more things.
Now if we go back to the way that any government handles all smoking related health issues for the general population, the schema can then combine with our previous idea. Consider these facts:
- Smoking cost the US $193 Billion US Dollars in 2004. (American Lung Association)
- In the UK, it cost the NHS £5 Billion in 2009 (BBC)
- In Australia, smoking related hospital expenses reached $670 Million in 2004-2005 (Better Health)
Theoretically, it then becomes a chicken or an egg issue: should governments pay people to stop smoking to alleviate healthcare related expenditures?
Of course, we already know the answer from the actions of many governments. Firstly, most of them leaned towards prevention and punishment, or the stick method. Increased tobacco taxes, punitive measures, banning, negative media campaigns and scare tactics run the gamut of efforts to prevent citizens from smoking. So far, we’re still seeing the effects of these on healthcare costs which at the onset doesn’t seem to be making a dent. It’s still too early to tell.
Yes, money talks and it’s been proven that people who are paid to stop smoking are three times more likely to quit. This has been proven in a New England Journal of Medicine research published on February 12, 2009 entitled “A Randomized, Controlled Trial of Financial Incentives for Smoking Cessation“. (NEJM.org)
In the study, the participants were paid upon the completion of the program. They were paid $100 and $250 if they quit for 6 months after enrollment and an additional $600 if they quit for 6 more months.
In conclusion, I think a lot of people who are currently unemployed and want to quit smoking at the same time would be really interested to participate in this. But from the government’s perspective, it becomes a matter of sustainability and productivity. That’s why they have opted to use punitive measures rather than rewards. How about you? Would you like to participate in such a program?
Hey don’t look at me! Suggest it to your government representative.
Creative Commons Image via Flickr