Cigarette smoking is injurious to health. Over the past 50 years, regulators and advocacy groups have used counter-marketing tools to discourage cigarette consumption. Some experts had proposed that increasing cigarette taxes could help curb the dreadful habit. However, a new study has revealed that increasing cigarette taxes may have the unintended consequence of driving consumers to higher nicotine content and more dangerous cigarette products.
The findings suggested that given the addictive properties of nicotine, increasing cigarette taxes per package increases addiction levels for some consumers.
One of the researchers Vishal Singh from New York University said, "While taxes are the most effective technique for reducing smoking rates, we find that this tool has a significant downside. Because cigarette taxes are currently applied at the per pack level and without regard to nicotine levels, consumers may respond to increasing cigarette taxes by switching to higher nicotine products. In other words, if consumers desire to minimize the cost per unit of nicotine, then increasing cigarette taxes may lead some consumers to shift to higher nicotine products."
For the study, the research team conducted analysis on nationwide data about store sales and examined populations of consumers that are exposed to different tax rates, advertising levels, and smoking prohibitions. In addition, data from the US Census allowed the investigators to examine the effectiveness of counter-marketing across consumers of different socio-economic levels. They found that the different anti-smoking techniques varied in terms of effectiveness. Most importantly, the researchers found that this unintended consequence of cigarette taxes was more likely to occur in poorer neighborhoods.
The study was published in Marketing Science.