A Tasmanian study is seeing if local businesses can help smokers kick the habit by offering small money incentives.
A Tasmanian study is seeing if local businesses can help smokers kick the habit by offering small money incentives.

By Bella Rigley, produced for online by Jessica Riga

Australia is spending a total of $31.5 billion on the effects of smoking, but a new Tasmanian project thinks there is a more cost effective method for quitting, by offering small money incentives to those who decide to kick the habit.

The Tobacco Free Community project hopes to not only tackle Tasmania’s worrying smoking statistics, but be successful enough to expand across Australia.

Three rural southern communities have teamed up with the University of Tasmania and Drug Education Network to put the idea into practise.

They will be encouraging people to make a pledge to quit at their local pharmacy, in return for government subsidised $50 vouchers to spend at local businesses over three months.

Their progress is policed with carbon monoxide breathalysers, which are affordable enough for any community to buy.

Drug Education Network educator Marion Hale says rewards are important when quitting.

“Smoking is a really hard addiction to break and people are really motivated by short-term rewards. So, people already want to stop smoking, people don’t want to have nicotine addiction, just that little bit of an incentive is a motivator to really make that change.”

She says the accountability aspect of the program also helps its success.

With small incentive systems proving successful in the past, researchers are hopeful this study will help smokers kick the habit.

“Building a relationship with your pharmacist, because the pharmacists are the ones that will give out the vouchers and do the carbon monoxide testing. That’s also a big win-win so people are building up that relationship they’re getting support and they’re also feeling accountable to that person.”

Leading researcher Dr Mai Frandsen from the University of Tasmania already applied the incentive system to encourage pregnant women to stop smoking, and that project had a 30 per cent quit rate.

She says local businesses were surprisingly eager to get on board.

“The local businesses down there are excited,” Dr Frandsen says.

“The local pharmacies are not getting anything out of this, they’re participating voluntarily because they can see the benefit of it and obviously it will improve the outcome of their clients.”

If this project is successful, she says it would be easy to replicate in Queensland.

“I can’t see why this can’t be adopted by health organisations, and even government systems, across not only Tasmania but nationally.”

Cancer Council Queensland just launched its QUIT HQ campaign, providing resources from a cost calculator determining how much you’ll save by quitting, to an interactive smoke-free finder map.

Cancer Council Queensland General Manager for Public Health Dr Peter Anderson says the focus at the moment is getting more smoke-free zones in Brisbane.

“So areas where people congregate, that could be Kind George Square, Anzac Square, South Bank for example, we’d like to see more areas of the city made smoke free.”