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Reading of the Week: Smoking Cessation & Incentives – the NEJM Paper

From the Editor

“So to put it simply, forcing people to choose is not always wise, and remaining neutral is not always possible.” University of Chicago economist Richard H. Thaler and Harvard Law School Professor Cass R. Sunstein write this comment in their widely-read book Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth and Happiness. They argue that people could be nudged in a certain direction, improving outcomes. Among the book’s fans: former UK Prime Minister David Cameron and former US President Barack Obama.

Thaler and Sunstein write about shaping basic decisions, like encouraging people to choose among their company’s pension plans. Retirement planning can significantly help people with their finances in their twilight years. But what about substance use? The stakes seem higher: smoking cessation can prevent major health problems long before retirement.

This week, we look at a new paper by University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine’s Dr. Scott D. Halpern and his co-authors. Published in The New England Journal of Medicine, they consider smoking cessation and find “financial incentives added to free cessation aids resulted in a higher rate of sustained smoking abstinence than free cessation aids alone…”

file-20170804-6503-18ujgw6Nudging people to butt out?

In this week’s Reading, we consider the paper and its implications. (There is, however, no financial incentive offered here.)

DG

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Reading of the Week: NEJM and Smoking Cessation

More than 50 years after the release of the first Surgeon General’s report on the harmful effects of smoking, national policies, behavioral programs, and pharmacologic approaches have helped reduce smoking rates in the United States. However, the need for new approaches is clear because smoking remains the leading cause of preventable illness and death.

So begins a big paper from The New England Journal with a simple aim: getting people to butt out. It raises two important questions: If we are serious about promoting smoking cessation, are we willing to put ‘our money where our mouth is’ – literally? And how could we do this?

“Randomized Trial of Four Financial-Incentive Programs for Smoking Cessation” by Dr. Scott D. Halpern et al. is this week’s Reading; it has just been published.

Though other papers have been written on this topic, the Halpern et al. paper is clever and interesting – and the results are surprising.

And, don’t tell the editors of The New England Journal of Medicine: the results are also disappointing. Continue reading