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Cash Reward a Good Incentive to Quit Smoking?

Is it helpful to offer yourself cash and prizes as incentives to not smoke?

I don’t discourage clients from considering this angle if they bring it up — they are probably at that moment focused on the dollar cost of smoking,  but these are often people who don’t have a cash flow problem to begin with.  When they calculate that they could “save” $5 to $10 a day, they might imagine putting that same cash in a jar every day and saving up for a nice vacation or other meaningful reward after six months or a year.  I always say, “Oh, that sounds great!  Where would you want to go?”

The thing is I’ve never heard anyone say they’ve successfully done this to stop smoking.

Imagine that you have an empty cherry jar at home and you’ve promised yourself you will put five or a ten dollars into it every single day for a year.   How long do you predict it will be before you skip a day or take a dollar out?   Three months?  Five?

No matter how inspired you feel while ceremoniously placing that empty jar in its honorary spot (maybe you’ll get creative and make a label!),  no matter how reverently you drop in that first bill — the real likelihood is that within a week or two you’ll be short on cash one day and promise to catch up later, or find yourself reaching in to cover a totally non-luxurious cash expense.

No problem, It’s human nature.  But —  If your success at avoiding the smoking habit is being anchored by your success at maintaining the cherry jar habit  — the minute you start re-negotiating with that cherry jar you’re not very far from calling off the whole deal and rationalizing “just one” smoke.

More often, I think most smokers realize that the money they’ve been spending every day on the small luxury of cigarettes is actually needed and better spent on other weekly and monthly expenses, and that whatever money they don’t spend on cigarettes isn’t likely to accumulate as a pile of cash in some dusty corner of their annual budget.

Another version of “cash rewards for nonsmoking” that many smokers are familiar with is the idea of making a significant wager with another smoker.  Both agree to quit at the same time and whoever smokes first loses the bet, so the more successful nonsmoker will be financially rewarded for having presumably superior willpower.

There are two common problems with this approach.

One is that winning the bet removes any financial motive for the winner to continue nonsmoking, your only requirement is to hold out one minute longer than the loser.  The other problem, which I’ve personally experienced more than once, is that such bets are usually made between close friends in hopes of helping each other succeed.  To win that bet (which is usually set at a meaningfully high dollar amount),  would create a serious rift in a social relationship.  Both times I’ve tried this approach (once with a relative and another time with a group of friends) the end result was that all parties agreed to nullify the wager by pre-arranged simultaneous relapse. Everybody fails, nobody pays!

There are some studies and current public health programs that explore the incorporation of  small value “gift card” reward strategies for tobacco cessation, the amount is typically $20 or $25.   Results suggest that this may be helpful with early tobacco prevention for teenagers, when they are placed in a position to choose between tobacco use and being able to afford a popular retail item.  Gift cards can also help encourage low-income adult smokers to initiate engagement with public health programs.  But there is no scientific basis for suggesting that a smallish, one-time cash reward would have any lasting effect on long-term behavior change.

Meanwhile, there is a great deal of psychological research comparing the relative strength of intrinsic (internally derived) and extrinsic (externally imposed)  motivation.  In one study of this type, it was observed that children who derive personal enjoyment from drawing will happily spend unstructured free time producing multiple drawn images, one after another.   When adults acknowledged and appreciated a child’s intrinsic enjoyment of the activity, the drawing output tended to increase.  However, when extrinsic motivation was established by stating that the child’s drawings were “very good” and offering to pay the child a dollar each for any new drawings, they observed a reduction in overall time spent drawing and a tendency to produce fewer drawings before shifting attention to other activities.

A financial incentive to not smoke represents an attempt to manipulate behavior through an externally imposed value system — one that, by definition, is not meaningfully related to the actual merits of being a nonsmoker,  In fact the external approach assumes there are no intrinsic merits, viewing the intended outcome as hard work to be compensated.

Without question, most adults are familiar with this structure as a socially imposed way of keeping attention focused on particular goals.  Smokers who choose this approach to stopping tobacco are most likely adults with solid prior history of setting and achieving goals that involve delaying gratification to get long term payoffs.  Higher education,  career advancement and financial independence are most often attained this way —  keeping one’s eye on the prize while continuing to make incremental daily sacrifices.

This approach may have value for pursuing goals related to weight control, because a change in body mass index requires continuous proactive behavior change.  Every day, the eater will still need to eat, but must make regular conscious incremental sacrifices in order to attain the desired result.  The goal-state cannot be experienced at all until those old eating habits have been successfully modified over time, and new eating habits have been gradually introduced.

With regard to smoking, however, it is well understood that the most effective method is abrupt cessation and permanent abstinence.  Attempts to “taper” smoking behavior incrementally most often result in failure.  A smoker who is  “Trying to Quit” by any method that aims to prevent current smoking by offering to reward daily abstinence with future prizes is continuing to frame the whole endeavor as a kind of punishment where smoking is desirable, but deprivation must be endured until a distant goal is earned through daily sacrifice.  This perspective emphasizes extrinsic and unrelated rewards to be gained by surviving an ordeal,  and is based entirely on the notion that reward is necessary because there are no intrinsic values to be found in the change itself.

Beyond the necessity of total abstinence, the most important determining factor of success with nonsmoking is the attitude of the person not smoking.  When a nonsmoker perceives and values nonsmoking itself as the immediately attained and sufficiently fulfilling outcome of the behavior change,  the complete transition is usually easy and immediate.   We seldom experience struggle or difficulty when we are actually doing and getting what perceive that we want.  There is no need to punish, purchase, bribe or reward when every awareness of nonsmoking confirms that the prize is always being received right now. The reward is continuous and continuously granted at all times because it is 100% intrinsic to the simple status of being a nonsmoker.

Now this:

Carrot or Stick?  Are you Asking the Right Question?


Big Tobacco is Back on TV!

You’ve seen them by now, haven’t you?   E-cigarette ads on TV.

Those of us over a certain age are likely to be experiencing deja-vu, because the classic tobacco adverting themes are making a comeback.  If you didn’t know, all of the major e-cigarette brands in the US are now owned by big tobacco, and big tobacco has over 100 years experience pitching nicotine to consumers.

Of course they never mention the psychoactive drug nicotine (C10H14N2) in their advertising.  They’ve known all along that nicotine is the only commodity they have to sell, and that it’s the special ingredient that keeps their customers coming back for more.  They also know that to admit this on television would be the worst marketing strategy ever.

The modern tobacco industry and the modern advertising industry are childhood friends,  born in the USA in the early 20th century. They came of age together on television during the 1950’s and 60’s, when they invented a technique called “Image Advertising,”  in which you don’t talk specifically about your product at all.  Instead, you visually associate your product with compelling images of a desirable lifestyle or value system and  — voila — your product acquires those desirable qualities by association. Otherwise known as “Putting Lipstick On a Pig.”    For example:

For over 15 years, tobacco advertising owned a very large chunk of American television,  creating a uniquely profitable semiotic reframe that attached a wide range of cultural  meanings to the truly pointless act of inhaling toxins and, more aptly, blowing smoke.   No one spoke or thought of themselves as nicotine consumers; we were ‘smokers’ and we did it to be cool, sexy, masculine, feminine, rugged, sophisticated, brainy, outdoorsy, mature, youthful, energetic and relaxed.

Once it was fully understood by health agencies and the general public that advertisers had been pulling a fast one on the public by using pretty pictures to sell the addictive properties of nicotine,  an act of Congress required the FCC to prohibit tobacco advertising on television, and tobacco products went off the air forever in 1971.

Or so we thought.

Now the same people who brought you The Marlboro Man and Joe Camel are back to advertise a product that delivers the very same drug without all that pesky tobacco.  “New and Improved, Death-Free Nicotine.”  And they haven’t forgotten a thing about image advertising or how to push your buttons.  They know what you like.

You still like Tough Guys?  Big Tobacco still has Tough Guys!

You still  like Sexy Girls?  Big Tobacco still has Sexy Girls!

Nice Lipstick, huh?

Hey, are you getting pop-up ads for vapor products on these YouTube clips?  Me too.  Must be some kind of mistake.

How clever is it for Reynolds Tobacco (which owns Camel, Kool, Winston and Salem brand cigarettes) to wage a negative campaign agains itself,  spending millions on celebrity endorsements that explicitly call out and reject the dangerous, “yucky,” shameful,  inconvenient and decidedly un-sexy aspects of their own classic product lines, aspects they’ve always been at great pains to downplay and conceal ?

Extreeeemely clever.

You don’t have to be a tobacco company executive to see that U.S. smoking rates have been in steady decline for the past 50 years.  Dropping from roughly half of all adults in the 1960s down to less than 15% today.   And if you are a tobacco company exec, you had darn well better be doing something about that.  One thing they are doing is redoubling their efforts to gain market share for combustible tobacco outside the US,  with special efforts to get young smokers on board in Russia, India and Africa.

The other thing they’re doing, clearly, is reaching out to a new generation of Americans about e-cigs, which appear to be in every legal way the exact opposite of smoking — except for all the ways in which it’s exactly like smoking.   E-cigarettes have been available in the US since 20o7, but it’s only within  the past few years that Big Tobacco decided to take over this market.   Since the 1900’s, the tobacco industry has built and protected the dominance of  empire with a three-pronged strategy:  1) Buy any competitors you can buy,  2) crush any competitors you can’t buy, and 3) stay two steps ahead of your own current product with market research and product development.

The first e-cigarette was patented in 1963 by an American, Herbert A. Gilbert.  He pitched his invention to the tobacco companies and other manufacturers, but no one cared.  Combustible tobacco smoking was in its heyday and personal technology was not.  The hand-held calculator wasn’t even invented until 1967,  so Gilbert’s invention went unnoticed as there was no consumer market for personal “devices” other than the Timex wristwatch and the Zippo lighter.

Things are quite different now, of course, as our most coveted possessions are cutting edge high-tech personal digital devices.  Smoking may be on the way out, but intimately interactive electronics featuring microprocessors, lithium batteries and LEDs are likely here to stay.  Inhaling nicotine is among the lowest of low-tech experiences possible, but image advertising can make even the most meaningless act seem important and exciting.

You like technology?  Big tobacco has technology!

Vuse e-cigarette “It’s Digital” (2015)   =   Lucky Strike Fine Tobacco,  “It’s Toasted” (1917)

In addition to losing those adults who have quit smoking, and the increasing number of adults who have never smoked,  Big Tobacco is also losing an additional 1300 American consumers every day — those who die from using their product.   It’s always been imperative for the industry to replace these prematurely deceased consumers with fresh new ones, but it’s really hard to convince an adult non-smoker to take up smoking for any reason.  Tobacco brands do their best to appeal to what the industry has termed “replacement smokers” — teens and pre-teens, who are more easily swayed by fashions, fads, celebrities, technology and perceived norms about peer group behaviors.

From internal industry documents, it’s been revealed that tobacco advertising has never been about getting adult smokers to switch brands, it has always been aimed at creating predictive brand loyalty among “pre-smokers.”  By the time a teenager tries that first cigarette, they generally already know what brand they would want to try.  If a tobacco brand can get a teenager to start using their particular nicotine product regularly, that teen is highly likely to become a long term or lifetime consumer and fiercely loyal to the brand.

An increasing number of teens today say that they have never smoked tobacco, and have no intention to smoke tobacco.  Teen smoking is currently at 8%, an all time low that represents tremendous progress in present public health, as well as a  generational impact in the future relevance of tobacco use in American culture.

However, teen use of electronic cigarettes has actually tripled in the past year.  It’s not known specifically whether the current increase can be attributed to the few television ads that have aired so far, and it’s quite likely the increase has at least something to do with the shiny packaging of fruit and candy flavored nicotine placed in highly visible store displays.

Tobacco_and_candy_1_copy_web_t670          CRO_health_eCig_productshot_03-14

Is electronic cigarette use among teens a passing fad?  It it normal adolescent experimentation that would have otherwise been tobacco use?   Or has Big Tobacco found a new way into their lives, with a new generation of video advertising?

Television itself may not actually be the most relevant part of the equation.  Most teens don’t gather in family room the to watch a television set while interacting with family members,  they more often consume video content (and interact with peers) in private via personal computers, tablets and smartphones.

Will this unsupervised access, unregulated product and unbeatable digital advertising venue help Big Tobacco reclaim its most coveted demographic?  Will the FCC find ways to establish reasonable controls over this product’s advertising?

Stay tuned.






Diacetyl found in flavored e-cigs

Tobacco_and_candy_1_copy_web_t670While e-cigarette marketers tout the absence of tobacco carcinogens and the relative harmlessness of nicotine in their products,  a new Harvard School of Public Health study shows that at least one of the chemicals used in creating the various flavors in e-cigarettes is being linked to respiratory disease.  The same chemicals that are used in artificial butter flavor (which have been shown to create lung disease when inhaled by popcorn factory workers) is present in some flavored e-cigarettes, especially the candy and fruit flavored varieties that appeal to young nicotine consumers.

There is current debate about the importance and validity of this finding, based on the nature of the study and the amounts recorded.   One thing that has never changed in the entire history of nicotine delivery products is that the science is always hotly debated by all concerned parties.  Read the Harvard study and decide for yourself :


Should We Fear the Fear Itself?


Cigarette Pack Graphic Warning Label

Fear is of the most common tactics used by anti-smoking campaigns, but it may not be the most effective. Studies show that fear tactics can be instrumental in initiating a “single-event” change to mitigate risk, but it is much less effective at motivating sustained change or series of behaviors over time. Long term changes to behavior patterns are more effectively produced by learning and applying new skills.

Click for the full  NPR Story


Ask The Right Question

“Why did you decide to become a nonsmoker?

Take a moment to answer, mentally or aloud, with whatever reasons come to your mind. No need to write anything down, but do put a bit of thought into it. What sort of things would you say if I asked you in person?

Maybe your answers include at least one of these universal reasons most commonly reported by smokers attempting to quit:

Filthy Habit / Smells Bad / Tastes Bad
Coughing / Impaired Breathing / Low Energy
Health Risks / COPD / Cancer
Embarrassment / Secrecy / Hassle / Expense
Feeling Trapped / Loss of Control / Addiction
Skin & Aging / Circulation / Sex Appeal and Performance
Relationship Pressure / Family Dynamics / Work Environment
Hate it / Sick of it / Over it

Most likely you related to more than one, maybe even all of those problems with smoking. You probably have direct experience with some of them, and you’ve certainly been exposed to the others by scary anti-smoking ads.

These classic concerns identify important problems with smoking and strongly suggest compelling reasons to quit.  But you’re answering the wrong question.  I asked for the reasons why you decided  to become a nonsmoker. Most likely you started listing reasons to stop being a smoker.  There’s a big difference.

Reasons to stop doing something are usually stated as negative motivators, which are designed to amplify the problem in hopes of enforcing action away from undesirable outcomes.   To say that you want to be a nonsmoker so that you won’t smell bad / feel bad / get sick is a negative motivational structure aimed at avoiding or eliminating probable consequences of the status quo.

The problems of smoking are obvious and profound (hey, it kills people), but focusing on them can only be helpful in one specific way. Sufficient fear may provide a wake up call that helps us recognize the importance, urgency and necessity of change – these can be crucial factors in establishing “Readiness” to change.

But readiness is only one of three things necessary for behavior change — you also need Willingness and Ability (or Confidence of Ability). Smokers often assume that readiness is all you need and try to quit by emphasizing what they dislike about smoking. But the serious limitation of this approach is that negative motivators are temporary. Once you succeed at getting away from a specific problem, you no longer have that problem.

The moment you become a non-smoker, the problems of smoking no longer apply and they stop functioning as motivators. As soon as you start feeling better, smelling good, saving money, receiving praise, building pride, you dispense with your negative motivational structure and figure the job is done. Thinking that no further action is needed can lead to carelessness, cockiness and relapse.

  • You can motivate a mule to walk by whacking him with a stick. He will trot a few steps to get away from the stick, then stop. To get anywhere, you have to keep walking up and hitting him with the stick over and over. Every time you approach the stubborn mule with a stick in hand and negative motivation in mind, you risk getting kicked in the head!

To compensate for the way that negative motivation fades with time, smokers often try to intensify the negatives so they can hang onto them. In hypnotherapy settings, clients very often hope that hypnosis can be used to create a permanent state of hate and disgust for smoking.

While it is possible to create post-hypnotic suggestions of revulsion, there is nothing at all that can be done about our basic human instinct to stop worrying about problems that we have already solved. No amount of current anger at smoking can possibly have any effect six months from now, when the idea of just that one cigarette seems so harmless and enjoyable.

For successful long term behavior change, it is necessary to engage Positive Motivators, which identify desirable outcomes and amplify their appeal to motivate action toward an intended result. Seeing the intrinsic value of being a nonsmoker, and having enthusiasm for a nonsmoking future is the key to “Willingness.”

  • Hold a carrot in front of the mule’s face, and he will walk forward to get it. Move the carrot and the mule will follow. Tie the carrot onto the end of the stick, sit on the mule and dangle the carrot in front of him,  he will take you where you want to go.

While Readiness fulfills and completes its function at the moment change occurs, Willingness continues to inspire investment and forward progress. So let me rephrase the question….

What are the benefits that you will enjoy most about being a nonsmoker?