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Turns out, smokers are 20 percent more likely to quit if cigarettes cost a dollar more.
The study used 10 years of neighbourhood-level price data to determine how it affected nearby smokers, focusing on those who skewed older.
Lead author Stephanie Mayne said that older adult smokers have been smoking for a long time and tend to have lower rates of smoking cessation compared to younger populations, suggesting a deeply entrenched behaviour that is difficult to change.
She noted that the 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 behaviour change.
The cohort Mayne and Auchincloss looked at included smokers ranging in age from 44 to 84 and stretched across six different places, including the Bronx, Chicago, and the county containing Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Data were taken from the study population between 2002 and 2012 as a part of the Multi-Ethnic Study of Artherosclerosis (MESA).
In addition to finding that current 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.
However, when the data was narrowed to heavy smokers (defined as smoking more than half a pack a day), there was a 7 percent reduction in risk. When prices increased by a dollar, heavy smokers also showed a 35 percent reduction in the average number of cigarettes they smoked per day, compared to 19 percent less in the overall smoking population.
"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."
Something she found, though, was that smoking bans in bars and restaurants did not appear to have any effect on smoking behaviour in the study population. Although more research is likely necessary to see why that is and whether it's true, one possible explanation is that the economic pressures of a cigarette price increase provide a stronger incentive to quit than placing limits on smoking in public places.
The study is published in Epidemiology.
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