Nine completely different articles and a publication in The Lancet

Nine completely different articles and a publication in The Lancet

Catharina Pijls Thesis Prize for Floor van den Brand


People who receive a financial reward to quit smoking, have a 1.5 times higher chance of succeeding than people who only receive training to give up smoking. With this research, Floor van den Brand, now a post-doc at the Department of Family Medicine of research school Caphri, has won the Catharina Pijls Thesis Prize 2021. It is not the first time that she has received praise for her work. For her thesis, she was given the distinction cum laude, as well as the Caphri Societal Relevance Award. What makes her thesis so good?

“Floor is very clever, you only need to tell her something once and she stores it,” says supervisor Onno van Schayck, professor of Preventative Medicine. “She often came back with something that went much further than what you had suggested. She is really on top of the subject matter.”

The subject matter, which in this case is how you can help people to quit smoking. Participants were offered training to give up smoking by their employers. Some of them were able to earn a total of 350 euro in gift vouchers. They received the first 50 euro immediately after completion of the training. The rest followed after three, six and twelve months, on condition that they still didn’t smoke. The other group of participants also completed the training but did not receive a reward. Of the test subjects who received gift vouchers, 41 per cent still didn’t smoke after a year. In the control group, who did not receive a reward, the percentage was 26 per cent. Moreover, it works well with lower-educated smokers, who are often difficult to reach.

It was a large research group: six hundred participants. That, according to Van den Brand, played a part in the success. “We paid a lot of attention to the research plan; we were fortunate that there was a budget. This was an ambitious trial, but because of that – looking back – the proof is very strong.”


It still wasn’t easy getting the participants together, which brings Van den Brand to another point: “When something doesn’t go as you had thought, you need to adjust. We were in contact with an agency that provided training to quit smoking. We though: businesses approach them, we ask if they want to participate in our research, and all will be okay.”

That didn’t work out so well. “We actually had to go out recruiting. People sometimes feared that it would cause trouble with their other employees if they rewarded one group for unhealthy behaviour. But you are actually rewarding healthy behaviour. Smoking is a tough addiction, 80 per cent of smokers want to quit, but often fail. Good support is important.”

Van den Brand and her colleague Lotte de Haan-Bouma wrote to businesses. “Then we went on LinkedIn looking for the HR manager trying to find out their direct e-mail address. If you send something to a general business e-mail address, you often don’t receive an answer.”

Children’s party

Also during the research, some things took more time than we had initially thought. “We wanted to check whether people were indeed no longer smoking by using a breathalyser test. We would go to all sixty businesses and test the participants there. But often people weren’t there: the one was working nights, the other had a day off, someone else was working at a different location. So, we started making phone calls. ‘Are you in the neighbourhood? At a children’s party? Okay, I’ll come to you.’ Normally this type of study has a lot of drop-outs, we didn’t have that.”


Van den Brand also interviewed both the participants and the businesses about their vision on quitting smoking. A unique combination of qualitative and quantitative research, says Van Schayck. “Most good researchers are good in one thing and take a firm grip on that. During Floor’s PhD track, she showed that she has mastered all avenues of research. Her thesis consists of nine completely different articles that have been published in renowned journals such as The Lancet Public Health. It contains a systematic review (an elaborate literature research, ed.), which is a lot of work. The large trial with the most important research results. And the qualitative research which she deals with in a very interesting way and in which she shares original thoughts.”

It could well be cum laude, Van Schayck remarks in a discussion with his PhD candidate. “Only once, consciously. You have to be careful with that. It would be terrible if someone then banked on that and it didn’t happen.” Van den Brand doesn’t do that. “At that time, I was mainly busy finishing everything up on time and focussing on my defence. When I heard it, it felt a little unreal and very extraordinary.” That is typical of her, says Van Schayck. “She is very modest. For example, she is a tremendously good cyclist, but when she wins a race, you never hear that from her.”


Van den Brand is now working on the follow-up research, for which she already received a subsidy during her PhD track. She is looking at how the results of the previous research can be implemented. “There are two problems: businesses are less responsive now that they have to pay the reward themselves and they notice that the number of participants is disappointing when they decide to offer the training to quit smoking. Using a webinar, we hope to teach employers how to inspire people.” Van Schayck is glad that she is remaining in Maastricht for the time being. “Floor is a very promising researcher; I hope we manage to keep her.”

Catharina Pijls Prizes

In addition to the national Thesis Prize (10 thousand euro), the Catharina Pijls foundation awards an annual Encouragement prize (a value of two thousand euro), to a recently graduated student from the Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences. This year, the prize goes to Ilja van Bergen, alumna from Health Policy Innovation and Management, for her thesis "Identifying the beliefs regarding COVID-19 vaccinations of young adults in the United Kingdom".

The prizes will be awarded during the (online) Catharina Pijls lecture on Thursday 18 November. This year, it will be given by Jaap Seidell, professor of Nutrition and Health at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.

For more information, see: Catharina Pijlslezing | Andere kost: een pleidooi voor een gezonder en duurzamer voedselsysteem - events - Maastricht University

Author: Cleo Freriks

Photo: Joey Roberts

Categories: news_top, Science
Tags: catharina pijls prize,thesis prize,the lancet,phd student,phd thesis,smoking,caphri,instagram

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