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August 19, 2017

Raising cigarette prices may cause drastic change in older smokers' behaviors

While older smokers are generally less likely to quit, raising cigarette prices may be an effective way to encourage cessation in the population, according to a new study.

The findings may be particularly applicable to Philadelphia, where state and city taxes have made the average cost of a pack about $10.

Drexel researchers found that raising the price of a pack by just one dollar can make older smokers 20 percent more likely to kick the habit.

Stephanie Mayne, one of the study's lead authors, said older smokers tend to be more set in their ways, and are therefore less likely to quit.

“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," Mayne said.

The researchers noted there are few previous studies that look at the link between cigarette prices and smoking outcomes. Their findings suggest taxes on cigarettes, which are often implemented for separate policy reasons like increasing funding for schools (such as in Philadelphia), can have positive public health impacts.

The study looked at smokers between the ages of 44 to 84 from 2002 to 2012 in six different places, including the Bronx, Chicago and Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Overall, raising prices caused a three-percent decrease in smoking risk. Among heavy smokers, defined as those who smoke more than half a pack a day, the reduction was seven percent.

When the cost increased by a dollar, heavy smokers reduced their daily cigarette intake by 35 percent, compared to 19 percent among the overall smoking population.

The study's authors said they believe their findings should apply similarly to younger populations, and that raising the U.S. tobacco tax by a dollar could lead to a million less smokers nationwide. 

Conversely, the researchers found that smoking bans in restaurants and bars had almost no effect on behaviors.

"A ban may be circumvented by going outside or staying home, whereas avoiding a price increase might take more effort," said Mark Stehr, an associate professor in Drexel's School of Economics who co-authored the study.

Stehr noted that more research was likely needed to look at the effects of smoking bans.

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