Essay on Smoking

How the Increased Price of Cigarettes Has Affected Smoking

It is hard to break a smoking habit. However, it is one of the main causes of deaths in the USA, deaths that could otherwise be prevented. According to figures from the American Lung Association, smoking is responsible for 438,000 deaths each year. But, despite the many health risks, there is a continuing increase in sales of cigarettes. Throughout the world, strict government laws have been introduced to reduce smoking, but these barely seem to impact the prevalence of smoking. Explicit advertising on the adverse effects to health, high cigarette taxation, and a plethora of health-related programs seem not to do much to encourage people to cease smoking or to at least reduce the habit. This short essay examines how an increase in the price of cigarettes has affected smoking and whether it has helped curb it.

A number of different studies confirm an almost reverse relationship between smoking and the cost of cigarettes. Indeed, one important 2012 study (Chaloupka et al) showed a total 4% decrease in smoking after the price of cigarettes was increased by 10%. This says a great deal about supply and demand. Although this seems an effective way to reduce demand for cigarettes, the difficulty with this strategy is that it just reduces demand. Reduced demand is not actually an indicator that this causes people to give up such a harmful habit. 

The SSA (Society for the Study of Addiction) suggests that various research programs investigating the effects of the cost of cigarettes on the intensity and prevalence for smoking indicates that, generally, around 50% of the effect on overall demand is the result of a reduction in the number of people who smoke. This indicates that price increase both reduces the number of people who smoke and discourages younger people from starting the habit.    

A further 2014 study (Curti et al) is interesting in that it shows how a 10% increase in cigarette prices corresponds to just over a 4.5% increase in the use of RYO (roll your own) cigarettes. This indicates that those who smoke are choosing alternative products so as not to have to pay increased prices. Since e-cigarettes (electronic cigarettes) emerged and continue to gain in popularity, it is likely there will be an increased demand in even more alternatives, perhaps even in the illegal procurement of tobacco.

Because of its unregulated status, tobacco that is smuggled poses an even greater danger. Essentially, this tobacco may be comprised of higher levels of carbon monoxide, lethal quantities of tar, arsenic, and even rat excrement. The potential effects of this are much worse than the challenges governments are currently trying to address. When crime and illegal activities are added to the mix, the problem gets more complex and harder to get a grip on.   

An additional argument against increasing the price of cigarettes is that many smokers who live in states where cigarette prices are higher will look for other ways to get around the problem. The use of coupons or purchasing online represents two other ways that smokers already use to get around price increases. Clearly this negates the effects of increased prices on how smokers behave. Moreover, high-income smokers are not especially impacted since they will still be able to finance their habit even with price increases. Indeed, it is low-income smokers who are worst affected, but are more likely to resort to other less expensive and higher-risk alternatives.     

As a strategy for controlling smoking, the only benefit of increasing the cost of cigarettes is a reduction in demand because those who are addicted will merely seek lower-cost alternatives. Where governments persist with this particular strategy, it can only have a really positive and significant effect on people’s health if the cost of cigarettes increases faster than smokers’ incomes so that cigarettes are less or not at all affordable. If the primary objective is to reduce the number of people who smoke, then different governments should be stronger in their resolve in the area of cigarette marketing and provide people with better education about the dangers of cigarettes and help those who want to give up.