Smoking study pays people to kick habit


Published: Friday, January 16, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 16, 2004 at 1:30 a.m.
Want to get a longtime smoker to kick the habit? Send them on a shopping spree if they'll shun cigarettes.
That's the premise behind one small clinical trial now under way at the University of Florida.
Jesse Dallery of UF's department of psychology is rewarding smokers who quit with vouchers to buy products at 20 online outlets including Target, Wal-Mart, Amazon.com and Blockbuster.
The catch? They must prove they can stay clean by passing home-based breath tests connected to their personal computers.
Pay is "a powerful incentive because it provides immediate results," Dallery said. "Smokers don't have to wait years and years to experience the benefits of quitting."
More than 48 million people smoke in the United States. As many as one-fifth of all deaths from heart disease are attributable to smoking, and it is also blamed for an estimated $50 billion per year in healthcare expenses.
The idea of paying people to quit smoking grew out of a similar program that Dallery tried with heroin and cocaine addicts as a postdoctoral fellow at Johns Hopkins University.
Now he has launched a two-year study with a $200,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health.
To date, the trial has only three participants, but the results have been encouraging, according to Dallery.
Over the past six months, one man has kicked the habit entirely.
Another, who started at age 7 and had smoked more than 30 cigarettes a day for 15 years, reduced his smoking by 75 percent, and the third cut the number of cigarettes he smoked in half.
To track their progress, Dallery lends each participant a carbon monoxide monitor that works like a Breathalyzer but calculates the amount of carbon monoxide in the lungs instead of the level of alcohol in the blood.
Carbon monoxide remains in the lungs for about 12 hours after a cigarette.
The machine is hooked up to a Web cam on the participant's personal computer and once the test is done, they must e-mail a video clip to Dallery. That way, there's no question of a non-smoking stand-in taking the breath test for them.
Dallery is looking to enroll 10 men and 10 women, all smokers, to expand the study.
Participants are rewarded with bonuses and escalating dollar amounts the longer they abstain.
They receive a $2.50 credit for the first successful breath test; four in a row will net them a $5 bonus.
The three current test subjects have earned between $50 and $125 in vouchers, Dallery said.
The biggest pay-off, however, may be less obvious. They have the opportunity to kick the habit and regain their health.
Diane Chun can be reached at (352) 374-5041 or chund@gvillesun.com.

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