The study, published in the October issue of Nicotine & Tobacco Research, found that while increasing cigarette prices result in decreased consumption, they also lead to an increase in consumer use of high-yield cigarettes. The effect was considerably larger for menthol cigarettes than for non-menthol cigarettes.
"Price increases are effective at reducing the prevalence of smoking and reducing the number of cigarettes smoked per day among remaining smokers," said Matthew Farrelly, Ph.D., director of RTI's Public Health Policy Research Program and the report's lead author.
"Smokers who have cut back on the number of cigarettes they smoke per day can maintain, or even increase, their daily tar and nicotine intake by changing the way they smoke their cigarettes. The results reported in this paper show that smokers can compensate for rising prices in other ways as well, by choosing to smoke full-flavor rather than light cigarettes, for example."
The study was based on scanner data on cigarette prices and sales collected from supermarkets across the United States from 1994 to 2004 and used the Federal Trade Commission's data on tar and nicotine levels of cigarettes for both menthol and non-menthol brands.
During that 10-year period, the price of menthol cigarettes increased by almost 56 percent and resulted in a 1.7 percent increase in sales-weighted tar and 1.3 percent increase in sales-weighted nicotine yields per cigarette. The likelihood that a smoker will choose a full-strength cigarette over a light or ultralight cigarette also increased during this period for both menthol and non-menthol cigarettes.
Non-menthol prices increased slightly more than 50 percent during that same time period, leading to an estimated 1 percent increase in tar per cigarette, but no increase in nicotine.
The study was funded by The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Substance Abuse Policy Research Program.