Heavy Smokers Cut Back the Most When Cigarette Taxes Rise: Study

Boosting cigarettes taxes may cause heavy smokers to cut back more than lighter smokers, researchers have found.

The finding is surprising because it’s long been believed that heavy smokers would be most resistant to cigarette price increases, said Patricia Cavazos-Rehg, a research assistant professor of psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.


She and her team looked at data from more than 7,000 smokers who were initially asked how much they smoked and then asked the same question three years later.

“On average, everyone was smoking a little less” at the three-year follow-up, Cavazos-Rehg said in a university 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 start of the study, the typical smoker averaged 16 cigarettes a day. That fell to 14 per day after three years. During that time, the average price for a pack of cigarettes increased from $3.96 in 2001 to $4.41 in 2004. Most of that increase came from state taxes.

Heavy smokers — with a habit of more than 40 cigarettes, or two packs a day — would have been expected to reduce their consumption by 11 cigarettes a day even without a price hike. In states where cigarette taxes rose by at least 35 percent, however, heavy smokers reduced their consumption by an average of 14 cigarettes per day.

While the heaviest smokers cut back their cigarette consumption by an average of 35 percent in response to higher taxes, smokers with a habit of 20 cigarettes, or one pack per day, cut their consumption by only 15 percent, the investigators found.

No other factors — such as smoke-free policies — were as influential on smoking habits as price, according to the study published online recently in the journal Tobacco Control.

But while higher taxes may prompt smokers to cut back, it would be better if they stopped smoking altogether, Cavazos-Rehg noted.

“We don’t know whether there’s any health benefit if they continue to smoke, even if they are smoking less. However, if reducing helps an individual to quit eventually, then the health advantage becomes clear,” she said.

While the study found an association between higher cigarette taxes and reductions in cigarettes smoked, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

Tobacco history info

Tobacco was apparently not even suspected as a cause of lung tumours until the final decade of the 19th century. In 1898, a medical student by the name of Hermann Rottmann in Würzburg proposed that tobacco dust—not smoke—might be causing the elevated incidence of lung tumours among German tobacco workers. Rottmann's mistake was not corrected until 1912, when Adler proposed that smoking might be to blame for the growing incidence of pulmonary tumours. Lung cancer was still a very rare disease; so rare, in fact, that medical professors when confronted with a case sometimes told their students they might never see another.3 By the 1920s, however, surgeons were encountering the malady with increasing frequency, and started puzzling over what might be responsible. Smoking was commonly blamed, along with asphalt dust from newly tarred roads, industrial air pollution and latent effects from exposure to poison gas in the First World War or the global influenza pandemic of 1918–1919. These and a number of other theories were put forward as possible explanations for the rise of lung cancer, until evidence from multiple sources of enquiry made it clear that tobacco was by far and away the leading culprit.

Converging lines of evidence

In the middle decades of the 20th century, four distinct lines of evidence converged to establish cigarette smoking as the leading cause of lung cancer. These are outlined below.

Electronic cigarettes keep people smoking

If electronic cigarettes keep people smoking who would otherwise quit, that is harmful, he says.


Once sold mostly online and in small kiosks, they were given a huge boost in April when US tobacco giant Lorillard Inc purchased blu from the brand's creators for $135m (£84m).


Lorillard, producer of Kent cigarettes executives said they foresaw rapid growth and were keen to put their weight behind the brand.


Since the acquisition blu has seen a five-fold increase in its retail availability, and will be available in some 50,000 shops by the end of this year. The national advertising campaign launched in October.


"They've come in and put in their tremendous resources and experience and they've put us on steroids and given us the resources to grow well," blu's creator and president Jason Healy said of the Lorillard acquisition.


"We've established blu as a lifestyle brand for smokers."


It feels like what they're trying to do is re-establish a norm that smoking is okay, that smoking is glamorous and acceptable”

Cynthia Hallett Americans for Non-Smokers' Rights


Electronic cigarettes have been subjected only to minimal scientific study - not enough to demonstrate whether they are safer than tobacco cigarettes or effective as a smoking cessation product like nicotine gum or patches.


The World Health Organization has warned electronic cigarettes "pose significant public health issues and raise questions for tobacco control policy and regulation".


And a 2009 test by the US Food and Drug Administration of electronic cigarettes - none from blu - found traces of cancer-causing chemicals and other toxic chemicals.


Electronic cigarettes are either banned or heavily regulated in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Germany and several other countries.


But in the US, at present electronic cigarettes "are essentially unregulated" says McGoldrick.


Unless they make a therapeutic claim, for example that they can help people quit smoking, they fall in the cracks between federal tobacco regulations and rules covering drug devices like insulin pumps,


In the new commercial, Lorillard appears to have reached into the bag of advertising tricks that got previous generations of Americans hooked on cigarettes, tobacco industry critics say.

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