NHS could save billions by offering cash reward to quit smoking

This article was taken from: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/jul/17/nhs-could-save-billions-by-offering-cash-reward-to-quit-smoking

By Nur Pirbhai

Quitters 50% more likely to succeed if offered a financial incentive, researchers find

Offering financial rewards to people trying to quit smoking could save the NHS billions of pounds a year and boost the economy, according to research.

The review found people were 50% more likely to stop smoking when receiving a financial reward than those who were not. The value of the rewards ranged from £35 to £912 in the form of cash payments, gift vouchers or deposits paid by participants that were later refunded.

Smoking costs the economy about £13bn a year, including costs of £3bn to the NHS and social care. The researchers say their findings point to a novel potential method of reducing these costs, as well as improving public health.

“In comparison to the total amount that the NHS has to set aside in the UK for smoking-related diseases, the cost of providing incentives is incredibly small in comparison,” said Dr Caitlin Notley from the University of East Anglia’s medical school, the lead author of the study.

The findings, published by the Cochrane Library, contained the results of 33 trials in eight countries, encompassing more than 21,000 participants trying to give up cigarettes. This included 10 trials looking at pregnant women trying to quit.

The scientists found that the size of the monetary reward on offer made no difference to the chance of quitting, and that even small rewards increased the likelihood of a smoker quitting.

Previous work had found concerns with using financial incentives to quit, suggesting they were only effective for the time they were in place. However, Notley and her team have collated more recent results, all of which look at the effects in the long term, at least six months after the smokers initially quit.

“Incentives support people in the early stages of trying to quit smoking, which are the most difficult, and once people have made that health behaviour change and the incentives are removed, they’re more likely to stay abstinent from smoking in the longer term,” said Notley.

However, Notley warned that incentives did not work for everyone, and said a range of options to help people stop smoking should be offered, such as encouraging the use of e-cigarettes.

Dr Penny Woods, the chief executive of the British Lung Foundation, said: “Offering financial incentives to help people quit smoking has been dismissed in the past, so it’s fantastic to see strong evidence that these innovative schemes work.

“Local authorities should consider this new research when designing comprehensive stop smoking services, as it could help target those in our communities who struggle the most to give up cigarettes.”

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