Researchers offer money in exchange for smokers' participation
Auburn students who smoke cigarettes could put some extra cash in their wallets if they are willing to quit.
Smokers can earn up to $165 if they significantly reduce or abstain from smoking cigarettes as part of a smoking cessation study now under way by the Auburn psychology department.
"We're trying to reward abstinence," said Chris Correia, psychology professor and author of the study.
The study hopes to find that money can give smokers incentive to quit, said Trisha Benson, graduate coordinator for the study.
"Paying people not to use has worked with hard-core drugs like cocaine and heroin," she said. "We want to see if our findings transfer to smoking."
Correia got the idea for the study while in school at the John Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, Md., when he worked at a methadone clinic that followed a similar program targeting heroin and cocaine users. Unlike the smoking study, participants were not given money as incentive.
"We did not give participants cash, but instead vouchers that could be traded for goods and services in the community," he said. "This was to alleviate concerns about the money earned in the study being used for drugs."
To fund the smoking cessation study, which began in fall 2003 and will continue through the spring 2005 semester, Correia applied for a grant through the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The grant was awarded in August 2003 and will end on July 31, 2005, he said.
In order to continue research on the study after the summer semester, Correia has already applied for another grant.
"If funded, it will allow us to look at some additional ways of making the program more effective and (learn) more about who responds to this kind of approach and who does not," he said.
To qualify for the study, participants must be Auburn students who are 18 or older and smoke at least 15 cigarettes per day, Benson said. A Breathalyzer test is administered to participants to confirm whether they are heavy smokers. Students do not have to be interested in quitting smoking to be involved in the study.
"At least half of the participants are not interested in quitting," Correia said. "Not all participants want to quit smoking. They just want to make money."
Students who qualify will participate in a three-week study that will monitor levels of carbon monoxide in their lungs, Correia said. Participants are required to report to the lab twice a day Monday through Friday to give breath samples through a Breathalyzer.
During the first and third weeks participants are paid $4 for every Breathalyzer reading, regardless of the carbon monoxide level, making them eligible to earn up to $40 each week, Correia said.
The second week requires participants to reduce or abstain from smoking cigarettes in order to receive money.
Participants are divided into two groups. Group one can earn up to $40 in the second week. Group two can earn up to $80 during the week.
If participants give breath samples with low carbon monoxide levels they will be rewarded, Correia said. If readings show they are still smoking, participants will receive no payment. Participants who give consecutive low carbon monoxide readings during week two will continue to see an increase in the money they earn and receive a bonus at the middle and end of the week, Correia said.
Sessions missed during week two are counted the same as a high carbon monoxide reading and participants are reset to the original pay, he said. If students miss too many sessions they will be dropped from the study.
Once students have completed the three-week study, they are asked to return for a single follow-up session to check their progress, Correia said. Participants will receive $5 regardless of their Breathalyzer readings.
Many participants have quit the study before they have completed the full six weeks.
Brandon Costerison, a sophomore majoring in communications and political science, got involved in the study this past spring after seeing an advertisement in The Auburn Plainsman. A smoker for three years, Costerison, like 50 other undergraduates that have been involved in the study so far, saw the program as a perfect opportunity.
"I wanted to quit, and I needed the money," he said.
Costerison said he did not completely quit smoking during the study, but learned he would have to cut back significantly in order to get paid.
Cutting back was difficult, Costerison said. He returned to his regular smoking habits once he completed the study.
"After (the study) was over I went back to normal," he said. "Finals were coming up, and I was stressed and needed (to smoke). I think the study was fairly effective, and I really cut back on smoking."
Correia said he hopes the program can eventually become treatment for smokers who want to quit, but said more data needs to be collected before that can happen.
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