People are more likely to quit smoking and make other healthy lifestyle choices if offered small financial incentives, researchers have said.
A team from Newcastle University said that a review of evidence revealed that as little as £3 could make people up to 50 per cent more likely to change their behaviour.
The research looked at more than 30,000 participants in 16 studies who had been set challenges such as quitting smoking.
The charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) said that evidence of the benefit of financial incentives to help people quit was growing and could be “particularly helpful for the poorest most disadvantaged smokers”.
One recent study in Dundee found that smokers in deprived areas who were offered £12.50 per week to quit smoking had a three-month quit rate of more than 30 per cent, compared to the 14 per cent national average. Another in Scotland found offering pregnant smokers incentives to quit doubled the number who gave up the habit during their pregnancy.
Newcastle University Research Associate, Dr Emma Giles, said that the team had been “surprised at just how strong the effect was” in the studies they looked at.
“People who took part in these reward or penalty schemes were much more likely to adopt healthy behaviours, and if they continued they would have more chance of remaining healthy for longer,” she said.
Researchers said they were still unsure at what level incentives should be set, making it difficult to predict whether such schemes could save the NHS money by preventing future illnesses that might require expensive treatment.
In a separate report published today, ASH and the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies said that more 100,000 people would quit smoking in one year if the tax on cigarettes was increased to 5 per cent above inflation.
The move would bring in £485m in the next year, and £7.4bn over the next five years, the charities said, ahead of next week’s budget. Their report was backed by 80 leading health charities and experts.
Deborah Arnott, chief executive of ASH, said: “Raising the price of tobacco through taxation is the most effective way of reducing smoking and saving lives.
“Increasing taxes is a win-win for government - it raises much-needed revenue and encourages smokers to quit a deadly addiction. That is why we are calling on the Chancellor to be bold and raise the tax by 5 per cent above inflation to further motivate smokers to quit.”
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