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Bribery: The Best Way to Get People to Stop Smoking?

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What’s the best way to get people to quit smoking? A new study suggests it may not be the nicotine patch, e-cigarettes, or going cold turkey, but simply bribing smokers with money.

The study, which was recently published by the New England Journal of Medicine, involved a careful examination of five different smoking cessation techniques. Roughly 2,000 CVS Caremark employees participated.

According to the researchers behind the study, the most successful of the five techniques was this: requiring participants to place a cash deposit that would be lost if the participant failed to quit smoking. In fact, this method was far more successful than tactics that involved rewarding participants with cash if they were able to quit.

Dr. Scott Halpern, the study’s lead author and a professor at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, says the key was tapping into “people’s natural aversion to losing money.”

Although the deposit strategy was most effective, perhaps unsurprisingly far more people signed up for the program that offered a cash reward. According to Halpern, the deposit method was five times more effective than techniques that involved giving participants non-smoking aids, such as nicotine patches.

Halpern says the study could help health researchers devise better anti-smoking programs. “The trick now is to refine the deposit programs so they’ll be more popular without losing much, if any, of their effectiveness,” he said.

Interestingly, the study also showed that people who participated in group-based anti-smoking programs were more likely to succeed than those who approached the task on their own.

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