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Increase in Cigarette Taxes May Influence Heavy Smokers to Cut Back


An increase in cigarette taxes may lead heavy smokers to cut back more than people who smoke fewer cigarettes, a new study suggests.

Previously, it was assumed that heavy smokers would be less likely to cut back as a result of cigarette price increases, according to the researchers from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

The researchers examined data from more than 7,000 smokers. They were asked how much they smoked at the beginning of the study, and again three years later, HealthDay reports.

“On average, everyone was smoking a little less” at the three-year follow-up, lead researcher Patricia Cavazos-Rehg said in a news release. “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.”

At the beginning of the study, the typical smoker averaged 16 cigarettes daily. After three years, that fell to 14 daily. During that period, the average cigarette pack increased from $3.96 to $4.41. State taxes accounted for most of the increase.

The researchers calculated that heavy smokers—those who smoked two packs, or 40 cigarettes a day—would have been expected to reduce their smoking by 11 cigarettes per day, even without a price increase. They found in states where cigarette taxes rose by at least 35 percent, heavy smokers decreased their average smoking by 14 cigarettes a day. That represents an average reduction of 35 percent.

In contrast, those who smoked 20 cigarettes per day reduced their smoking by 15 percent (three cigarettes) when faced with a 35 percent tax increase.

The findings are published in the journal Tobacco Control.

3 Responses to this article

  1. Avatar of Michael Regenelli
    Michael Regenelli / December 6, 2012 at 4:05 pm

    Unfortunately, the idea that smokeless tobacco is a harm reduction alternative to smoked tobacco is a pernicious myth. Smokeless tobacco is just as dangerous as smoked tobacco, is just does its damage to different bodily systems. While smokeless tobacco does not lead to lung cancer like smoked tobacco does, it has the same negative cardiovascular effects, and puts the user at a substantial risk for various forms of mouth cancer.

    E-cigarettes, on the other hand, could be a viable harm reduction alternative to smoking. The addictive properties and dangers associated with nicotine are still there, but the toxic tar and carcinogens are eliminated. Although I am opposed to nicotine based products in any form, I have recommended electronic cigarettes to my friends who have been unable to quit smoking, because they do seem like a less dangerous alternative. There really needs to be more research into the subject, however, to determine the actual safety of e-cigarettes, and to discover any unknown or unforeseen dangers, such as whether increased purity levels of the nicotine solutions that is used could lead to users inhaling toxic amounts, whether the increased amount of nicotine that e-cigarettes can deliver will produce stronger mind altering effects, or whether smokers would change their behavior in a way that would lead to toxic levels of nicotine consumption.

  2. Fr. Jack Kearney / December 5, 2012 at 3:04 pm

    It will be interesting to see who tries to use this study to lobby for an increase in cigar3ette taxes. Since the study indicates only a reduction in the number of cigarettes smokesd—as apposed to quitting—then they would simply be advocating for harm reduction. Those same folks better be consistent and advocate for other proven harm reduction approaches as well, including smokeless tobacco and electronic cigarettes.

  3. Fr. Jack Kearney / December 8, 2012 at 4:38 pm

    I’m glad to see your support for electronic cigarettes, but I am amazed that you think smokeless tobacco is just as dangerous as smoking. The science is clear: ST is not safe, but is far safer than smoking. Although I wouldn’t want my friends to do either, I would much rather see them use Snus than smoke cigarettes. When you spread the myth that they are equally dangerous you are just giving smokers an excuse to keep smoking, which I’m sure is not what you want to do…

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