Get a job at GE and get paid to quit smoking

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Seems GE is going to start paying its employees to quit smoking. There’s been a fair amount of (inconclusive) research about whether paying people to quit smoking—or lose weight, or eat better—works in the long-run. Apparently, this study, conducted with GE employees and published in today’s New England Journal of Medicine, convinced the folks up in Connecticut to take the plunge. Here’s a recap, from the WSJ:

Researchers, led by a team from the University of Pennsylvania, tracked 878 General Electric Co. employees from around the country for a year and a half in 2005 and 2006. Participants, who smoked an average of one pack of cigarettes a day, were divided into two groups of roughly equal size. All received information about smoking-cessation programs.

Members of one group also got as much as $750 in cash, with the payments spread out over time to encourage longer-term abstinence. Those participants got $100 for completing a smoking-cessation program, $250 if they stopped smoking within six months after enrolling in the study, and $400 for continuing to abstain from smoking for an additional six months.

All participants were contacted three months after they enrolled in the study and periodically after that. Those who said they had stopped smoking at any point during the study were asked to submit saliva or urine samples for testing so that their claims could be verified.

About 14.7% of the group offered financial incentives said they had stopped smoking within the first year of the study, compared with 5% of the other group. At the time of their last interview for the 18-month study, 9.4% of the paid group was still abstaining compared with 3.6% of those who got no money.

And here’s why GE thinks $750 a pop is worth it:

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which helped fund the study, smoking costs companies about $3,400 per smoking employee annually, or about $7.18 per pack of cigarettes, in health-care bills, reduced productivity and absenteeism.

Loyal Time readers may recall that last year Lisa Cullen told us that companies were going to start forcing us to take better care of ourselves. Though with all the talk of moral hazard these days, I wonder if GE will see a sudden surge in the number of employees who smoke. If I have half a cigarette at a bar, do I get to claim myself a smoker and collect my $750?