Cold Hard Cash

Fact: smokers have 2-4 times the risk for heart disease than do nonsmokers. But the turn around is very fast once a smoker quits. "It's really quite striking how rapidly you get benefits," says cardiologist Russell Luepker, who is affiliated with the University of Minnesota and specializes in smoking cessation.

Improved Circulation

The facts speak for themselves. After only a couple of weeks from the time a smoker quits, there is an improvement in circulation. When a year goes by after quitting smoking, the smoking-related risk for heart disease is cut in half.

Smokers are well aware of the benefits of quitting and that's why 40% of them attempt a quit each year. But the odds of breaking the habit for good aren't great. Not even 3% of those who quit smoking remain nonsmokers for a year. To that end, researchers have been looking for ways to improve those odds.

Kevin Volpp, for instance, the director of the Philadelphia-based Center for Health Incentives affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and the with the Wharton School, has been getting good results by paying folks to quit. In 2009, Volpp and his colleagues said they got a 9.4% long-term quit rate in their study on over 800 General Electric Co. workers who each received $750 in exchange for quitting smoking. In an effort to force the participants to direct their thinking to the long-term, Volpp says that, "most of the money was held back."

Cash Incentives

Volpp's team gave $100 to each GE employee who took a smoking-cessation course, another $250 to whomever stayed quit for half a year, plus $400 more to those who were still not smoking at nine months. While no local businesses or health plans have tried to jump on the bandwagon, GE is thinking about offering the program throughout the company.

Luepker says that those smokers who seek counseling and employ any of the various smoking cessation medications and aids have a higher rate of success than those who get counseling or the medical aids alone. Of those smokers who employ both methods, 30% manage to quit for the long term.

In terms of counseling, smokers are taught how to problem-solve. For instance, they may learn how to get past a craving, or learn how to handle a stressful situation without resorting to cigarettes. Learning how to cope with these issues has been found to be valuable in achieving freedom from cigarette smoking. If the quitter has access to a telephone "quit line," his odds of success double. Every one of the 50 states has such a quit line that offers free live counseling 24/7.