The use and impact of incentives in population-based smoking cessation programs: a review

Am J Health Promot. 1998 May-Jun;12(5):307-20. doi: 10.4278/0890-1171-12.5.307.


Purpose: This review discusses current published literature on population-based smoking cessation interventions that involve incentives and examines whether such interventions are effective in reducing the prevalence of smoking.

Search method: Studies published between 1975 and Spring 1997 were identified through a computerized search of four electronic databases (MEDLINE, HEALTH, CINAHL, and PSYCINFO) and reference lists of key articles using the following key words: (smoking cessation OR quit smoking) AND (contest OR competition OR incentive OR lottery OR quit and win). This search yielded 79 articles. To be included, studies had to be published in English and had to have presented either quit rates or participation rates for an incentive-based program that used population-based recruitment. Of the 79 articles, 17 met these criteria.

Findings: Population-based interventions generally attract 1 to 2% of the target population, but these participation rates can potentially be increased through the use of innovative recruitment techniques. No specific type of recruitment strategy was shown to be consistently more effective than others. There is no evidence that particular types of incentives are able to influence participation or quit rates, but the size of an incentive does appear to be important, with larger incentives viewed as more effectively motivating smokers to quit and stay smoke free than smaller ones. Estimates of the cost per quitter have ranged from less than $20 to over $400. There are some indications that the costs of such programs compare favorably with smoking cessation classes or clinic-based approaches.

Conclusion: Incentive-based smoking cessation programs that target an entire community have the advantage of reaching a large and diverse group of smokers. They may, however, attract only smokers who are already motivated to quit. Realistically, incentive-based programs aimed at the general population can expect 1% of all their smokers to quit smoking. Quit rates among participants may initially be high (i.e., mean quit rate of 34% at 1-month follow-up) but decrease over time (i.e., mean rate of 23% at 1 year). The results of this review suggest a continued need to establish standard and valid criteria for the evaluation of smoking cessation interventions. Methodological differences among existing studies make them difficult to compare and interpret.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Canada
  • Community Health Services* / economics
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Europe
  • Health Promotion* / economics
  • Humans
  • Motivation*
  • Ontario
  • Rhode Island
  • Smoking Cessation* / economics
  • United Kingdom
  • United States