Quit smoking for the price of inflation

From the Freakonomics blog:

That’s the clever title of the latest paper from Dean Karlan (one of the founders of StickK.com, who was featured in this New York Times Magazine article yesterday along with my colleague John List) and co-authors Xavier Giné and Jonathan Zinman.

The researchers had surveyors approach people on the streets of the Philippines and offer them the opportunity to open a bank account that paid zero interest. The kicker: all the money deposited would be forfeited if, six months after opening the account, the account holder’s urine test showed evidence of smoking.

It doesn’t sound like much of an offer: zero interest, a good chance you’ll lose any money you deposit, and you have to consent to the embarrassment of a urine test. Still, the power an experimenter yields over subjects never ceases to amaze me — more than 1 in 10 of the people approached actually signed up for the account!

It worked surprisingly well, too. The treatment-on-the-treated estimate suggests that about 30 percent of those who opened an account quit smoking because of the account. That’s a higher success rate than is generally seen among those who try to quit smoking using nicotine patches, etc.

Also, who knew that people in the Philippines wanted to stop smoking? I thought kicking the habit was an exclusively American obsession.

Times readers had some interesting comments to this quit-smoking-commitment-strategy. Michael Donnelly likes the idea, but worries that non-smokers would sign up too. A screening mechanism would be needed to keep them out.

“Martha” and “Chicago” say the idea reminds them of the Stephen King short story, “Quitters, Inc.” about a smoker and his contract with some ex-mobsters. Writes Martha: “The smoker knew that he would be watched carefully and that smoking would be punished in increasingly harsh ways: wife and children roughed up, a finger cut off the smoker, …… with the final punishment being death. They did guarantee the smoker would stop, one way or another.”

5 Responses to “Quit smoking for the price of inflation”

  1. Josh Neumann Says:

    I don’t understand why anybody would sign up for this offer, but it’s always amazing what they will agree to, as you say. At least it sounds like it had some positive effects.

  2. mark philips Says:

    that is absolutely crazy. who is going to do the testing and how are they going to carry it out and where? I can see disputes arising over results.This is going to end up in court.

  3. Laura Rede Says:

    The thing is, people are starting to get so desperate due to the high failure rate of just about all the popular quit smoking methods, they will try just about anything. I believe quitting smoking is at LEAST 50% psychological (varying vastly from person to person), and this method deals almost exclusively with that aspect. This removes the option of smoking altogether (if I have this cigarette, I will lose my money, so I CAN’T smoke).

    I think this is a deceptively powerful method, one definitely worth a try in my book.

  4. Tammi Says:

    just came across. Nice blog

  5. merlinuae Says:

    The ElectroN is an electronic cigarette or smoking device. It consists of 2 parts – battery and atomizer unit with replaceable nicotine cartridge. It looks and works just like a regular cigarette – but without any of the harmful substances like tar, tobacco. Some studies mention that a regular cigarette has over 1,000 harmful chemicals! To use the ElectroN electronic cigarette you first charge the battery (we provide you with two batteries so you can charge one while using the other) and after charging is complete (it takes about 1 hour to charge the battery) you connect it to the replaceable nicotine cartridge and just smoke it like a regular cigarette. You will then be amazed to inhale and exhale smoke – just like a regular cigarette – BUT this smoke is actually just harmless vapour that does not contain harmful chemicals and leaves no smell!

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