Think old folks are set in their ways? Well, yes, they are. But they’re also cheap! And if you want people 44 to 84 to quit smoking, adding a $1 to the cost of a pack of cigarettes helps a lot. That’s according to a new study by researchers at Drexel University who looked at a decade’s worth of neighborhood-level data around smoking, prices and quitting.
Said Stephanie Mayne, a former doctoral student at Drexel and now a fellow at Northwestern: “Older adult smokers have been smoking for a long time and tend to have lower rates of smoking cessation compared to younger populations, suggesting deeply entrenched behavior that is difficult to change…. Our finding that increases in cigarette prices were associated with quitting smoking in the older population suggests that cigarette taxes may be a particularly effective lever for behavior change.”
Added Amy Auchincloss: “Results on this topic primarily have come from population surveillance…. But we had neighborhood tobacco price data and could link that to a cohort of individuals who were followed for about 10 years.” Probing the connection between smoking and cigarette prices is an understudied but important area to look at from a public health perspective, she said. Smoking remains the largest preventable cause of death and disease around the world.
On top of finding smokers were 20 percent more likely to quit smoking when pack prices went up by a dollar, Mayne and Auchincloss’ team showed that there was a 3 percent overall reduction in smoking risk. Among heavy smokers (those consuming half a pack a day or more) there was a 7 percent reduction in risk. Heavy smokers also smoked about a third fewer cigarettes as they became more expensive.
“Since heavy smokers smoke more cigarettes per day initially, they may feel the impact of a price increase to a greater degree and be more likely to cut back on the number of cigarettes they smoke on a daily basis,” Mayne said.
While the data focused on a population older than 44, Mayne believes the price effect may be “similar or possibly stronger in a younger population…. Some research suggests younger adults may be more price-sensitive than older adults.”
Smoking bans in bars and restaurants did not appear to have any effect on smoking behavior in the study population. Said Mark Stehr, PhD, an associate professor in Drexel’s School of Economics: “A ban may be circumvented by going outside or staying home, whereas avoiding a price increase might take more effort.”