CT receives federal grant for anti-smoking program

A federal grant to the state of Connecticut allows cash incentives for smokers trying to kick the habit.
A federal grant to the state of Connecticut allows cash incentives for smokers trying to kick the habit. Photo by Jacob Geiger.

Thanks to a new program, some Connecticut smokers will now get paid to break their habit.

Last month, Connecticut received a five-year federal grant of up to $10 million to establish iQuit, an anti-smoking program targeted at Medicaid patients. Researchers at the School of Public Health designed the program for individuals eligible for Medicaid — historically, the group with the highest smoking rates. Because it targets participants eligible for the state-administered program, Lieutenant Governor Nancy Wyman said in a press release that the grant will not only improve residents’ health but also lower taxpayers’ costs.

“This innovative program is encouraging Connecticut and other states to try new approaches to fight chronic diseases that destroy people’s health and cost taxpayers millions of dollars,” Wyman said. “By using new methods to encourage Medicaid participants to quit smoking, we can make real improvements in their health and help the state’s fiscal bottom line.”

Jody Sindelar, a professor of public health and economics, and one of the program’s creators, said that the initiative consists of paying Medicaid participants $5 if they attend counseling sessions and agree to engage in other antismoking treatments. They will also be paid $5 for carbon dioxide tests to detect if they have been smoking. By providing incentives to smokers, she said, they are more easily persuaded to quit.

Sindelar said she expects that iQuit will significantly reduce the rates of smoking in the Medicaid population, as previous trials have shown promising results. She added that research shows that providing addicts with monetary incentives helps them quit, even for cocaine users.

“Most addicts want to quit, but they have a hard time quitting,” Sindelar said. “With payments as an incentive we can tip the balance from quitting. And 70 percent of people who quit smoking say that they are happy [when they stop].”

Within the Medicaid population, iQuit will target pregnant women, Sindelar said, because smoking may lead them to early births, miscarriages and other complications. But, she added, physicians will encourage antismoking behavior after the baby is born. She compared the program to similar initiatives in Latin American and African countries where parents receive payments to send their children to school.

Stephanie O’Malley, a professor of psychiatry and director of the Division of Substance Abuse Research at the School of Medicine, said she believes the program will be effective based on her previous research into antismoking trends.

“When people think about quitting smoking, some of the negative consequences are on the way,” O’Malley said. “But if you want to quit and have some reward that overrides the negatives, you will quit.”

O’Malley added that other anti-smoking efforts, such as increased taxes on tobacco products, have had low success within the Medicaid population.

Still, the iQuit program may not work for smokers who do not fall into the low-income range, Sindelar said, because they do not need the monetary incentive.

iQuit is set to be launched in February.

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