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You want to quit smoking? The solution could be in the money

You want to quit smoking? The solution could be in the money

June 6, 2023

The English expression "put your money where your mouth is" could be more accurate than ever at the time of give up smoking . A recent study published in the journal The New England Journal of Medicine shows that monetary incentives have been more effective than nicotine patches and cognitive-behavioral therapy as a form of anti-smoking treatment.

Stop smoking through the reward

The starting point of the strategy for monetary incentives has the reward system of our brain as a starting point. The hypothesis is this: if your money goes into it, you'll have more reason to keep your promise to stay away from tobacco and be less likely to indefinitely postpone your "last cigarette". That is, a rewards system influenced by betting could strengthen your will power to a degree where neither chemical substitutes nor specific cognitive-behavioral therapies can do so. Quitting smoking would thus become a matter of profit and loss.

But such a mercantilist logic may seem perverse if it is based only on incentives alien to those that provide a healthier lifestyle. What happens when economic incentives cease? Do smokers come back to pounce on the packs of tobacco? Fortunately, it seems that no. The betting system proved to be effective even six months later that the researchers stopped financially rewarding ex-smokers for not trying tobacco.

How was the investigation conducted?

A total of 2,538 people who actively smoked were used as a sample for the study. From this set of smokers, these people They were divided into four groups depending on the type of program based on monetary incentives in which they would participate. These four programs were, summarizing a bit (names are invented):

  • Simple program . Quitting smoking for a series of days is rewarded based on the time spent away from tobacco. The researchers analyzed the volunteers' saliva at three different times after the program started: 14 days later, 30 days later and 6 months later. In each one of these revisions a sum of money could be obtained, being the maximum 800 dollars.
  • Simple program with bail . This program was similar to the previous one, but the volunteers had to start by leaving 150 dollars as bail. This money could only be recovered by spending 6 months without smoking.
  • Cooperative program . Each participant was assigned to a small group of six people. Individuals in each group earned money based on the number of people on their team who quit smoking.
  • Get the loot . Teams of six members were formed in which each person had to leave a bail of 150 dollars. People who quit successfully were divided equally by the sum of the bonds.

Volunteers who refused to participate in the program that had been assigned to them had the possibility of quitting using traditional methods.


The four programs were shown more effective than traditional methods to stop smoking. However, the programs that achieved the best results were also the least popular, that is, those that fewer people were willing to start. These last programs were the two that required the deposit of a bond: although only 14% of the assigned persons began them, 52% of the participants spent 6 months without smoking, while this percentage of effectiveness decreased to a 17% on alternatives based only on one reward.

Of course, not everyone has access to the necessary tools to do saliva analysis. However, if you are thinking about quitting smoking it is always good to keep in mind that, behind all the justifications that one puts on to smoke the last cigarette, there is a system of rewards that you should be able to put between the sword and the wall .


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