As cigarette taxes go up, heavy smoking goes down

November 30, 2012 by Jim Dryden, Washington University School of Medicine
States tax cigarettes at different rates, from less than 50 cents per pack in Missouri, the Carolinas and North Dakota (shown in white), to more than $2 per pack in states such as New York, Massachusetts and Michigan (dark blue). The study found that higher taxes caused the greatest reductions in smoking among those who smoked the most. (CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION)

(Medical Xpress)—When cigarette taxes rise, hard-core smokers are more likely than lighter smokers to cut back, according to new research from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

"Most and researchers thought these very heavy would be the most resistant to price increases," says first author Patricia A. Cavazos-Rehg, PhD. "Many believed this group was destined to continue smoking heavily forever, but our study points out that, in fact, change can occur. And that's very good news."

States tax at different rates, from less than 50 cents per pack in Missouri, the Carolinas and North Dakota (shown in white), to more than $2 per pack in states such as New York, Massachusetts and Michigan (dark blue). The study found that higher taxes caused the greatest reductions in smoking among those who smoked the most.

Cavazos-Rehg, a research assistant professor of psychiatry, and her team analyzed a subset of data from a large study documenting the prevalence of alcohol and drug use and associated psychiatric and . The study identified 7,068 smokers and asked them how much they smoked. Three years later, researchers went back and asked the smokers the same question.

"On average, everyone was smoking a little less," says Cavazos-Rehg. "But when we factored in price changes from tax increases, we found that the heaviest smokers responded to price increases by cutting back the most."

The study was published in the journal Tobacco Control.

When the study began, the typical smoker averaged 16 cigarettes per day. After three years, that number had declined to an average of 14 cigarettes daily. During the period between the surveys, the price for a pack of cigarettes increased from an average of $3.96 in 2001 to $4.41 in 2004. Most of the increase was due to hikes in .

The researchers found that individuals who smoked 40 cigarettes (two packs) each day would have been expected to cut back by 11 the number of cigarettes smoked daily with no price hike.

But in states where rose by at least 35 percent, heavy smokers lowered their daily smoking by 14 cigarettes, on average.

Among those who smoked less, rising prices had less of an impact. Individuals smoking 20 cigarettes (one pack) per day, would have been expected to cut back by two cigarettes without a price increase, but in response to a 35 percent increase in price, they only reduced their smoking by three cigarettes a day.

So in response to the higher taxes, heavy smokers cut back by an average of 35 percent. Lighter smokers smoked about 15 percent fewer cigarettes.

The researchers also looked at other potential explanations for why smokers cut back, but no other factors were as influential as price.

"Other research has shown, for example, that smoke-free indoor air policies can reduce the number of cigarettes that people smoke," says Cavazos-Rehg. "But our study didn't find that. There weren't a lot of changes in indoor smoking policies during the time period in which these surveys were conducted. So we can't say those policies don't help reduce smoking. It's just that we didn't find they had a big impact in our results."

In addition, other factors may be at play. For example, Cavazos-Rehg says heavy smokers are more likely to develop serious health problems that could provide an extra incentive to quit or to cut back. Plus, heavier smokers are more likely to get encouragement to quit from a doctor or family member.

Although the in this study cut back, she points out that health benefits are certain only if they stop altogether.

"They're not quitting, but they are reducing their smoking behavior," says Cavazos-Rehg. "We don't know whether there's any health benefit if they continue to smoke, even if they are less. However, if reducing helps an individual to quit eventually, then the health advantage becomes clear."

Explore further: Stopping smoking is hard despite success of smoke-free legislation

More information: Cavazos-Rehg PA, Krauss MJ, Spitznagel EL, Chaloupka FJ, Luke DA, Waternam B, Grucza RA, Bierut LJ. Differential effects of cigarette price changes on adult smoking behaviors. Tobacco Control, vol. 21, published online Nov. 2012: doi:10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2012-050517

Related Stories

Stopping smoking is hard despite success of smoke-free legislation

April 20, 2012
The successful implementation of smokefree legislation in Hong Kong has led to an overall decrease in the total number of smokers but the remaining smokers who are finding it difficult to quit are going on to become "hardcore" ...

Cigarette taxes 'Disproportionately burden' the poor, report says

September 18, 2012
(HealthDay)—New research finds that high cigarette taxes take a heavy toll on low-income smokers, compared to those who are wealthier.

Women smokers who quit before 40 gain nine years in lifespan

October 27, 2012
Women can add nine years to their lives by quitting smoking before the age of 40 but still face a 20-percent higher death rate than those who never smoked, a study said Saturday.

Recommended for you

Who uses phone apps to track sleep habits? Mostly the healthy and wealthy in US

January 16, 2018
The profile of most Americans who use popular mobile phone apps that track sleep habits is that they are relatively affluent, claim to eat well, and say they are in good health, even if some of them tend to smoke.

Improvements in mortality rates are slowed by rise in obesity in the United States

January 15, 2018
With countless medical advances and efforts to curb smoking, one might expect that life expectancy in the United States would improve. Yet according to recent studies, there's been a reduction in the rate of improvement in ...

Teens likely to crave junk food after watching TV ads

January 15, 2018
Teenagers who watch more than three hours of commercial TV a day are more likely to eat hundreds of extra junk food snacks, according to a report by Cancer Research UK.

Can muesli help against arthritis?

January 15, 2018
It is well known that healthy eating increases a general sense of wellbeing. Researchers at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) have now discovered that a fibre-rich diet can have a positive influence ...

Your dishwasher is not as sterile as you think

January 13, 2018
(HealthDay)—Your dishwasher may get those plates spotless, but it is also probably teeming with bacteria and fungus, a new study suggests.

Study reveals what sleep talkers have to say

January 12, 2018
A team of researchers with members from several institutions in France has conducted a study regarding sleep talking and has found that most sleep talking is not only negative in nature, but involves a large amount of swearing. ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.