Taxes Reduce Smoking
November 30, 2012

Tax Hikes Help Reduce Smoking Habits

Lee Rannals for — Your Universe Online

According to a new study, as cigarette taxes increase, heavier smokers tend to cut back on puffing away on those cancer sticks.

Washington University School of Medicine researchers identified 7,068 smokers and asked them how much they smoked. The team went back three years later and asked the smokers the same question.

On average, the researchers found that everyone was smoking a little less. However, when tax increases were factored in, they saw the heaviest smokers cut back the most.

The typical smoker during the onset of the study smoked an average of 16 cigarettes per day. After three years, that number dropped to an average of 14 cigarettes a day.

During the survey period, 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 state taxes.

The team found that individuals who smoked 40 cigarettes per day would have been expected to reduce by 11 the number of cigarettes smoked daily with no tax increase. However, in those states where cigarette taxes rose by at least 35 percent, heavy smokers lowered their daily smoking by 14 cigarettes, on average.

The rising tax prices on individuals who smoked less had a much smaller impact. Those who smoked a pack a day, or 20 cigarettes, would have been expected to cut back by two cigarettes without a price increase. However, with the tax increase, they reduced their smoking by three cigarettes a day.

“Other research has shown, for example, that smoke-free indoor air policies can reduce the number of cigarettes that people smoke,” Patricia A. Cavazos-Rehg, author of the paper published in the journal Tobacco Control, said in a statement. “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."

Other factors could have played a role, such as heavy smokers being more likely to develop serious health problems that could provide an extra incentive to quit or cut back. Also, heavier smokers are more likely to get encouragement to quit from a doctor or family member.

Cavazos-Rehg pointed out that they are reducing their smoking behavior and that if this helps an individual quit eventually, then the health advantages become clear.

A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology earlier in November and reported here on redOrbit found that even reducing a smoking habit can have health benefits. These researchers determined that those who reduced their cigarette consumption had a 22 percent reduced risk of an early death.

Those in the previous study who reduced their smoking by one category or more were seen to have a 15 percent decrease overall in mortality risk and a 23 percent reduced risk of cardiovascular mortality.