Study examines effectiveness of deposit-based smoking cessation programs

New research into the psychology of tobacco cessation has shown that quitting support programs requiring a financial deposit are more effective than those that simply offer a reward. Understanding that financial incentives have been successful in promoting other healthy behaviors, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania evaluated four incentive programs for smoking cessation that were based either on rewards or on deposit contracts. The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, compared programs designed for individuals as well as groups and found that deposit contracts tapping into quitters’ drives to avoid loss had a clear advantage.

“We found that deposit contracts were both much less attractive and much more efficacious than previously tested reward programs,” said Scott D. Halpern, MD, PhD, principal investigator of the study and associate professor of medicine at the Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania. “In other words, adding a bit of a stick was much better than a pure carrot. So the trick now is to refine deposit programs so that they will be more attractive without losing much, if any, of their effectiveness. I think CVS Health is on the right track to that by rolling out their “700 Good Reasons” campaign last month that requires only a $50 up-front deposit, rather than the $150 we used in our study.”

“Employers and insurers could do a whole lot more to curb smoking – and to reduce costs to themselves – by designing their programs in ways that account for human psychology. The fact that people actively seek to minimize loss is one of several psychological insights that can help supercharge incentive programs without increasing their costs,” said Halpern.