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UTHSC smoking study offers cash to quitters

Anyone who has tried to kick the habit knows it's hard — very few people can simply stop smoking. But a researcher at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSC) is trying another way to wean smokers from their fix.

Richard Lamb, Ph.D., associate professor in the department of psychiatry, is testing a "behavior shaping" process that encourages smokers to reduce tobacco use by offering incentives to quit. "In this case, the incentive is cash," Dr. Lamb said. "We want to use something that is an effective incentive for most people, and money tends to be it."

Dr. Lamb and his team measure the carbon monoxide levels of volunteer smokers on a daily basis. When the smoker reduces tobacco use, the carbon monoxide level drops. The smoker is then rewarded with money.

"Most smoking cessation programs set complete and prolonged abstinence as the immediate goal. We're trying to determine if bringing shorter periods of abstinence in contact with incentives can help us develop longer periods of abstinence," Dr. Lamb said. "This process will inevitably lead people to reduce smoking if they want to earn all the bonuses that are available."

While cash works for this experiment, Dr. Lamb said other incentives could be just as effective. "Everyone has a different incentive to quit smoking," Dr. Lamb said. "We used cash because it's easy for us to deliver in a consistent manner."

Dr. Lamb is recruiting about 200 volunteers who are not trying to quit smoking. He also is recruiting about 200 volunteers who seek to quit for a similar study examining the use of incentives in those trying to quit smoking. Interested participants must be at least 18 years old and smoke a pack or more a day. Volunteers will meet with Dr. Lamb's team for five minutes a day, Monday through Friday, for three months. Participants receive a dollar a day for volunteering and predetermined cash rewards for reducing tobacco use. Anyone interested can call Dr. Lamb's staff at (210) 567-5417.

Contact: Amanda Gallagher or Aileen Salinas