Smokers enticed to quit with shopping vouchers that build a network of support
Pharmacies and other local businesses on Tasmania’s east coast have been enlisted in a project to pay smokers to quit.
Under the Tobacco Free Communities pilot project, pharmacies in Bicheno, Swansea and Triabunna will give residents vouchers to spend at local businesses if they sign up to stop smoking for at least three months.
If the participants can prove through a regular carbon monoxide breath-test that they have not smoked, they will get a voucher each week for the first month, and another at the end of the second and then third months, up to total value of $310.
Bicheno pharmacist Craig Lawless already had two people sign up and several more express interest in the project, which started on May 1.
He said the role was a natural fit for local pharmacists.
“Pharmacies are first points of contact where people can come in and get advice and products, and, if necessary, a referral to a doctor,” he said.
“Any way we can improve the health or the finances of the local communities are really, really important.”
Local resident Louisa Jenkinson signed up to the project because she wanted to quit smoking and get fit for a hiking trip.
She anticipated the community support would help her give up.
“It means I have the incentive because I’m suddenly accountable, because I’ll be coming in to the pharmacy quite regularly and I know the pharmacist and the assistants in here,” Ms Jenkinson said.
“They’ll ask me every time they see me if I’m smoke-free.”
Smokers encouraged by short-term rewards
University of Tasmania senior lecturer Dr Mai Frandsen will evaluate the results of the trial and said for people who quit smoking, the health rewards often seem a long way off.
“It’s based on the simple premise that if we reward someone for changing their behaviour in the short term, they’re more likely to do that and to continue with that behaviour change,” she said.
The project is based on similar work Dr Frandsen has carried out with pregnant women who wanted to give up smoking.
The results of that research is yet to be published but Dr Frandsen said offering the women vouchers to stop smoking made them three to four times more likely to quit and continue to avoid smoking at the end of their pregnancies.
Whole community helps smokers quit
Tasmanian has the second highest smoking rate in Australia, behind the Northern Territory, and there are more shops per capita selling tobacco products in regional and rural areas than in urban areas.
Tasmania’s Drug Education Network (DEN) is managing the pilot project in the Glamorgan Spring Bay council area and hopes to eventually expand to others.
DEN educator Marion Hale hoped involving local pharmacies and businesses would help the project to succeed.
“It’s really lovely to develop that approach to helping everyone in the community improve their health,” she said.
“People are going to get these vouchers, they’re going to spend them in the local business, so they’ll be getting support from all the people.
“There’ll be a pat on the back from people who know they’ve got the voucher because they’ve stopped smoking.”
Dr Frandsen also believed the extra encouragement and pressure from the community will help.
“[The participant] knows that, ‘Geeze, I’d better not relapse or take up smoking again because the whole community knows, and they’ve got my back and they want me to be successful’, so it creates a social contract that we can’t create in a lab setting,” she said.
Glamorgan Spring Bay Mayor Michael Kent said the project’s design would help keep money in the local economy.
“That will bring, obviously, more people into cafes around the municipality, and I’m sure the business community will be right behind it,” he said.
The Tobacco Free Communities pilot project is a partnership between the Drug Education Network, the University of Tasmania, the Royal Flying Doctors Service and Cancer Council Tasmania.
It is funded by a $25,000 Healthy Tasmania Community Innovations Grants from the Tasmanian Government.