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Incentives encourage smokers to quit long term, study finds

Financial rewards can help people to quit smoking and stay that way long term, a new study has found.

The research, carried out by the Universities of East Anglia, Oxford and Stirling, looked at whether incentives helped smokers stop for more than a short period of time.

It comprised 33 trials with more than 21,600 people and different reward schemes. Smokers were selected from different settings including mental health clinics, primary care clinics, cancer treatment clinics and universities. All the participants were followed-up for at least six months.

Those who had quit smoking were tested by a breath test or by checking bodily fluids. Rewards were in the form of cash payments or vouchers. The participants were given financial incentives between a range of £35 and £912.

After six months or more, those people receiving the rewards were found to be 50% more likely to have stopped smoking than those not receiving them.

This continued even after the incentives had ended – with 10.5% of the group who received financial rewards having quit, compared with 7% in the group that were not given any monetary incentives.

Importantly, there was little difference in quit rates between those receiving more financial incentives compared to those receiving less.

Trials were also conducted with pregnant women and found that they were more likely to stop smoking during pregnancy and after birth if they received financial incentives.

Lead author Dr Caitlin Notley said: ‘Rewards, such as money or vouchers, have been used to encourage smokers to quit, and to reward them if they stay stopped.

‘We wanted to know whether these schemes actually work long term, as previously it was thought that perhaps incentives only worked for the time that they were given. We found that they do help people stay smoke free, even after the incentive scheme ends.’

She added: ‘The cost of smoking to the economy is huge – around £13 billion to the UK economy, including over £3 billion for NHS and social care and £7.5 billion to lost productivity. So these types of schemes could help save money as well as lives.’

The study noted that further research was required, including to determine the effectiveness of this methodology on low and middle-income countries and pregnant women, of different reward schedules, as well as the potential harm inclusion in the scheme could cause to smokers.


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