The safety foundation TrygFonden wants to pay Danes to stop smoking and it has the full support of The Danish Cancer Society (Kræftens Bekæmpelse).
The two groups are in favour of replicating a successful American trail that used financial incentives to get smokers to quit.
A May report in the New England Journal of Medicine detailed two incentive programmes offered to employees of the American firm CVS Caremark. In one programme, smokers deposited $150 which they were given back if they stopped smoking along with an extra $650. In the other, employees were offered a $800 (about 5,500 kroner) reward to stop smoking, without first paying the deposit.
Researchers found that 52 percent of those in the ‘deposit’ programme were successfully able to give up cigarettes for at least six months compared to just 17 percent who signed up for the ‘reward’ program. This, the journal wrote in an editorial, is proof that people are ‘loss averse’.
“They tend to dislike losses more than they like corresponding gains,” Cass Sunstein wrote.
Other American companies have also reported success with incentive-based models to get employees to stop smoking.
The Danish groups didn’t specify the model they’d like to see brought to Denmark, but TrygFonden said it is prepared to foot the bill for a trial programme.
“Smoking is by far our largest public health problem, which contributes to taking three years of our collective life expectancy. Many would also like to quite, but it is just very difficult. Therefore we should go in with an open mind and see what we can do to help people,” TrygFonden spokeswoman Merete Konnerup told BT.
“The promise of a monetary reward – and with it, for example, a corresponding boost for the family to take a luxury holiday – might help people take the final step in the right direction. It is a method we would very much like to be involved in investigating further,” she added.
The Danish Cancer Society also said it’s worth seeing if Denmark can replicate the American success.
“Some might find it controversial, but the promise of a financial reward is in many respects a very strong driving force and if Danish trials can confirm the good American results, we have no problem with the method,” spokesman Niels Them Kjær told BT.
Kjær added that the costs of the programme “would be small compared to the costs of treating the illnesses that come with smoking”.
Despite the two groups’ support, it may be a long time until a Danish programme becomes reality. Parliament’s two largest parties, the Social Democrats and the Danish People’s Party, rejected the idea of using public money for such a trial, as did Health Minister Sophie Løhde.
“It’s not cheap to smoke so it is already a cash bonus in itself to stop smoking. And I think it is a slippery slope if we start paying residents to live healthier lives,” she told BT.
According to the Danish Cancer Society, Denmark was one of the European countries with the highest rates of smoking but is now closer to the European average. As of 2014, 21 percent of adult Danes smoke, with 17 percent smoking daily.