Straight Talk Advice

Beyond CVS—Cash awards for tobacco-free grads

Oct 28, 2014

Thank You For Not Smoking!

Dear Straight Talk: Trying to quit smoking? Forget it! The trick is not starting. Leroy and Dee were heavy smokers who knew this. They told their sons at a young age that they put $600 apiece [equal to $3850 today] in an account to receive when they graduated high school in 1969 if they never smoked one cigarette. They might have both tried one, but never to their parent's knowledge and they both collected their money. They never did start smoking. Almost every smoker starts before 18. Most kids aren't rewarded for not smoking, only threatened punishment for starting, which heightens excitement and peer approval. If kids had guaranteed money at graduation for not smoking, it would be a game-changer for American smoking. I think Bill Gates could fund this one. —John Snider, Cottonwood, Calif

Moriah 17, Rutland, Vt. Ask me a question

Great idea! I've never felt tempted to smoke, however many kids find the social pressure and curiosity stronger than their belief in a faraway future. This could pole-vault kids over that critical addiction period.

Katelyn 19, Huntington Beach, Calif. Ask me a question

If this became a project, other incentives would jump aboard: electronics, scholarships, auto loans, etc. ALL nicotine products should be included.

Brandon 22, Mapleton, Maine Ask me a question

Maybe bribing kids to not smoke was okay in 1969 when there weren't the proven facts on cigarettes. Back then, people would say, “Where's the proof?” Today, kids know better. What's next? Receiving cash to not get pregnant, do drugs, or steal? I don't agree with paying people to perform basic common sense.

Colin 21, Sacramento, Calif. Ask me a question

This might work if you lowered the amount and parents or willing billionaires ponied up. In Indonesia (population 250 million) nearly every12-year-old boy is a regular smoker.

Ryann 17, Tustin, Calif. Ask me a question

I completely agree that not starting is key to eliminating smoking. But I don't think this idea is realistic for America. First, not everyone is able to give their children an incentive for not doing what they already know is wrong. Plus, it's a parent's duty to set an example, show right from wrong, and teach children to withstand peer pressure — versus paying them off.

Lennon 28, Los Angeles, Calif. Ask me a question

Bribes are associated with corrupt activities, rewards with beneficial ones. Calling rewards “enabling” or “soft” is slippery. We all trade 'what we got' for monetary rewards. Anyone getting a paycheck knows that. Currently for teens, the smoking versus not smoking choice lacks a clear reward option. When one's friends are smoking, refraining due to future health can look weak compared to fitting in and/or rebelling. However, if not smoking netted $3K, that's a new option on the table. In addition, punishment becomes losing the $3K, placing the onus of choice on the child, not the parent, thus removing the rebelling aspect. Teens “get” this option and are unlikely to pressure each other.

Brie 23, London, England Ask me a question

I'm doing this if I have kids. What an awesome idea!

Dear John: Indeed, the idea is smokin' hot! Smoking is the number-one cause of preventable death in the U.S. — with 90 percent of smokers starting in high school. It's also ridiculously expensive, not counting the $7-$10 per pack. A UCSF study calculated that health care and loss of productivity due to illness and premature death cost California $18.1 billion in 2009. If every 18-year-old in California — all 517,669 of them — refused to smoke and each received $3850 (I personally like this serious number), the reward would total $2 billion. Savings: $16.1 billion! The $2 billion rewarded would stimulate the economy, jumpstarting young adults in colleges, careers, transportation, investments, etc. Something like this could be funded by a philanthropist in any school district or city, with many eager sponsors. Saliva and urine nicotine test kits are readily available. What a life-changing project! 

Editor's Note: A friend leased a beautiful new all-electric Nissan Leaf last weekend. The cash incentives amounted to over $10,000, along with carpool-lane stickers and tax advantages. People are lining up to kick their petrol addiction with these incentives in place. And many are going home to their newly-solarized home (also installed with huge incentives), and plugging their car into power made by the sun. These incentives are driving the rapid rush from fossil fuels, not the fact that mature adults have KNOWN our carbon footprint has been deleteriously affecting our health for many years. My point is that incentives have been used forever (by both savvy parents and savvy governments) to motivate positive behaviors.

Incentivizing "never starting" nicotine is an idea bright as cars running on solar. Stop polluting the world, stop polluting ourselves. I'm grateful to print John Snider's letter and bring this idea to half a million readers. I'm also grateful to the panelists for sharing a range of honest viewpoints.

Why single out nicotine, not soda pop or candy bars? It's the number-one killer, that's why. It's preventable. It stinks. It affects others through second-hand smoke. It's one of the most addictive drugs known, more addictive than heroin, and our kids are most vulnerable. In studied 12-13-year-olds, many show signs of addiction within days of their first cigarette. Need more reasons?

Every day 3,200 U.S. teenagers light up for the first time and almost two-thirds of them get hooked. It's the one pesky juvenile habit that most teens don't outgrow. Anybody who is or was a smoker knows how difficult it is to quit. In a compendium study of people trying to quit various substances (with no help from medicines), it was found that about 18% were able to quit drinking, more than 40% were able to quit opiates or cocaine, but only 8% were able to quit smoking.

Right now, 90% of kids start smoking in high school, 9% start from age 18-26, and only 1% start after age 26 when the adult brain has fully kicked in. (Perhaps it takes a juvenile brain to feel invincible enough to think you can casually smoke and not get addicted — it has also been postulated that juveniles are more susceptible to nicotine addiction then adults.)

I'd love to see a city sponsor this "Thank You For Not Smoking" reward campaign so results can be tracked. While the reward might result in an uptick of kids who start AFTER graduating high school (now I can finally smoke!), I doubt the numbers would be significant. Why? Because the three driving factors, peer pressure, invincibility, and the need to rebel against parental authority all drop off tremendously after high school.

The best time to introduce kids to the campaign (not that it couldn't work otherwise), is when they are young, like Leroy and Dee did for their kids. I would say age 8-9 is a good age for children to "pre-decide" how they see themselves handling all kinds of big future decisions. By age 12, quite a few have had their fist puff.

CVS Health kicked their tobacco habit by removing all tobacco products from their shelves nationwide on October 1 of this year, a move that shocked the retail world. As CVS said, "It's the right thing to do." I couldn't agree more. No doubt it will prove to be a savvy business move, too.

As today's numbers show, providing cash incentives to teens to not smoke is also a savvy business move. At whatever level, family, district, city, county, state or nation, the savings are huge. Hopefully it will be coming soon, to a school district near you! —Lauren

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  1. By Christie, age 17, from Salinas, CA on 10/28/2014

    I totally disagree with the concept that teenagers should be bribed not to do something they should not be doing in the first place.  It sends the entirely WRONG message!  If they should be bribed not to smoke, why shouldn’t they be bribed not to drink alcohol, not to take drugs, not to have sex, not to cut school, not to steal, or anything else that they shouldn’t be doing???  I say this because our parents are constantly trying to bribe our brother, whose behavior is horrible and who gets terrible grades because he cuts school and won’t do his school work.  In contrast, my sister and I do everything we are supposed to including getting excellent grades.  However, as discussed in a recent column, he gets rewarded for being the “bad one” while my sister and I who are the “good ones” are ignored.  They actually offered him a large financial bribe if he could just get a C average (which he didn’t do anyway) while they give us nothing for getting practically straight A’s to give just one example.  He also constantly complains that we are treated better when the opposite is true.  Since he’s a boy, he gets his own room while my sister and I have to share a room the same size as his.  Since we only have one bathroom and all have to get ready at the same time, he gets to use it in private while my sister and I have to share it, often even when we’re going to the bathroom since there simply isn’t time for both of us to do it private during the morning rush.  Since we’re close and get along it’s not the end of the world, but it would still be nicer to have our own rooms and have privacy in the bathroom like he has.  However, all he does is complain and make life difficult for everyone so our parents constantly try to placate him by giving him whatever he wants.

    I really believe that teenagers (or anyone) should face consequences for bad behavior rather than being rewarded for what they should be doing in the first place by bribing them.


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    1. By Michelle, age 19, from Carmichael, CA on 10/30/2014

      I understand what you are saying that teenagers shouldn’t have to be paid not to smoke or not to do other things they shouldn’t be doing.  Even so, I wish my mom had done something like this.  I gave in to peer pressure to smoke when I was in high school, as I was in a group where almost everyone smoked.  I’m now hooked and unable to quit.  I’m still living at home with my mom and 13 year old sister while I go to community college.  My mom won’t permit smoking in our apartment, and I wouldn’t want to expose my little sister to my smoke anyway, and we share a room.  I therefore have to go outside to smoke which is a major pain since our apartment is on the third floor, but I go through the hassle anyway because I can’t kick the habit.  I think a financial incentive might have worked with me.  It also would have given me a good reason to give to the others in my group who were giving me peer pressure to smoke.

      I know that I’m setting a terrible example for my sister, and I really feel bad about that.  She looks up to me and wants to be just like me.  She wanted to start waxing when she was only 12 and started growing pubic hair because she can see that I do it, since we share a room and she sees me nude.  Our mom told her that she needs to wait until she’s older like I did, and she accepted that.  However, I don’t want her to start smoking ever, and I have a hard time explaining to her that she shouldn’t smoke when I do it.  If I had the money, I would gladly pay her not to start smoking especially since I would feel it was my fault if she did it because she was following my lead.  However, I don’t have the kind of money that is suggested in the column or anything close, and neither does our single parent mom.  I just hope that my sister will be smarter than I was and hope that she can learn from my mistake instead of making the same mistake.


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  2. By Lisa, age 16, from Westminster, CA on 10/29/2014

    Nobody needs to pay me and my brother not to smoke.  We can’t stand cigarette smoke!  But when our grandma comes over she always smokes up a storm and the smoke permeates our small apartment and doesn’t go away for a long time.  We keep the door to our room closed when she’s here to keep out the smoke but it really doesn’t do that much good.  Our mom says that her mother isn’t going to change at her age and she used to try to get her to stop smoking but gave up a long time ago.  If she wants to smoke at her house and ruin her health which it already has it’s one thing, but we don’t think she should have the right to fill our apartment up with her smoke like she does.

    Avoiding all of the hazards of smoking should be incentive enough.  You shouldn’t have to be paid not to smoke.


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  3. By Billy, age 16, from Lodi, CA on 10/31/2014

    I’d gladly take the money! LOL! I’m not stupid enough to smoke anyway, so I would happily take money for not doing something I’m not going to do in the first place.  I’m also not going to drink at least at my age or do drugs, so why not throw in some extra bucks for me not doing these things?  Why did nobody suggest this last week when the column was about not drinking at parties or doing drugs like Molly? Those things are at least as bad as smoking cigarettes if not worse. 

    While we’re at it, I’d really like someone to pay my sisters not to walk around in their thongs or go to the shower naked like others I’ve read about in Straight Talk, and stay in their room with the door closed where they’ll only see each other when they’re naked or in their thongs.  They just laugh me off when I tell them that it bothers me and actually seem to think it’s funny to embarrass “little brother” this way.  But I bet they’d stop if the price was right!  Maybe Bill Gates would be interested in paying them as it would be a worthy cause in my opinion.  LOL!


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  4. By Brenda, age 40, from Toledo, OH on 11/01/2014

    I really wish that I had been given an incentive such as this when I was a teenager.  However, my parents were both smokers and they probably could not have afforded it anyway.  Although if they were not smoking the money they were spending on cigarettes would have given them enough to give my sister and me some kind of a financial incentive.  They both died untimely deaths from causes that can be linked to smoking.  They half-heartedly told my sister and me not to smoke, but with the example they were setting it had no effect on us.  We were able to smoke in our room without them noticing since our house was filled with smoke anyway.

    I got hooked as a teenager, and it seemed impossible to quit when I got older.  However, when I became pregnant with my twin son and daughter, I forced myself to quit due to the risks of smoking to children during pregnancy, but it was VERY, VERY difficult.  I also managed to stay away from smoking after they were born since I did not want to expose them to second hand smoke.  For some reason the risk of smoking to my own health was not enough of an incentive to give me the strength to quit, but the risk to my children fortunately was.

    My twins are now 16 and I would love to be able to give them a financial incentive not to smoke, although I think they are intelligent enough not to start smoking anyway.  However, I am now a single parent and simply do not have extra funds to do so.  I cannot even afford separate bedrooms for them which is a priority if I ever have extra money.  They are very close and say it does not bother them to share a room even though they are opposite sexes and do not even feel the need for a privacy patrician which I suggested when I read about it in Straight Talk.  However, based upon what I have read, this is not a healthy situation even though they are comfortable with the arrangement, and that would be my priority before paying them not to smoke, especially since I do not think they would do so anyway.


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  5. By John Snider, age 62, from Cottonwood, CA on 11/01/2014

    Every smoker wishes they had never taken their first cigarette, if not before, certainly after they get terrorized with suffocation from their cigarette caused emphysema.

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  6. By Carla, age 40, from Petaluma, CA on 11/02/2014

    I have always believed in rewarding my children for good behavior and do my best to reward them for things like good grades, helping around the apartment,  and doing what they are asked without complaint.  I have 2 teenaged daughters and a teenaged son, and the girls are much better behaved, so they get more rewards.  Since we can only afford 3 bedrooms and my daughters share a small bedroom without complaint that is the same size as their brother’s room and also share our only bathroom in the morning again without complaining, I try to also give them extras when I can, although I am limited on what I can do on my single parent limited budget.

    However, it never occurred to me that I should be paying them for not doing things that they should not be doing and have been forbidden to do, such as smoking, drinking, taking drugs, etc., even if I had the funds to do so (which I do not, anyway).  I am very confident that my daughters would never engage is such behavior anyway, but I am not certain about my son.  Even so, I really do not think I should have to pay him for not doing things that his sisters would never do in the first place.


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