(NaturalNews) When cigarette taxes go up, heavy smokers cut back on their cigarette consumption more than light smokers do, according to a study conducted by researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine and published the journal Tobacco Control.
The findings were surprising, as they defied the conventional wisdom.
"Most clinicians and researchers thought these very heavy smokers would be the most resistant to price increases," lead author Patricia A. Cavazos-Rehg said. "Many believed this group was destined to continue smoking heavily forever, but our study points out that, in fact, change can occur. And that's very good news."
The researchers examined data from a prior study on alcohol and drug use, focusing on 7,068 smokers who were interviewed about their cigarette use in 2001 (at the beginning of the study) and then again three years later. At the beginning of the study, the average smoker smoked 16 cigarettes per day. At the end, the average smoker was consuming only 14 cigarettes per day.
"On average, everyone was smoking a little less," says Cavazos-Rehg. "But when we factored in price changes from tax increases, we found that the heaviest smokers responded to price increases by cutting back the most."
Heavy smokers cut back dramatically
Overall, the price of cigarettes increased from $3.96 per pack in 2001 to $4.41 per pack in 2004, largely due to increasing state taxes. To determine how these price increases affected smoking habits, the researchers examined each state separately. They found that the more cigarette prices went up, the more smokers cut back on cigarette consumption.
The researchers defined a heavier smoker as someone who smokes two packs (40 cigarettes) or more per day, and a lighter smoker as someone who smokes an average of one pack (20 cigarettes) per day. Based on the national statistics, heavy smokers would be expected to cut back on their daily cigarette consumption by 11, while lighter smokers would be expected to cut back by two per day. But in states that experienced a 35 percent of greater increase in cigarette taxes, heavy smokers reduced their average daily cigarette consumption by 14, a decrease of 35 percent. Lighter smokers in such states reduced their average daily consumption by only three cigarettes, or 15 percent.
The researchers tested to see if factors other than taxes might account for the drop in cigarette consumption, but found none of them to be significant. They noted that some of these factors might have contributed to the discrepancy between heavy and lighter smokers, however. For example, heavier smokers probably experience more social pressure and more severe health consequences to smoking, both of which may contribute to the decision to cut back.
Unfortunately, Cavazos-Rehg pointed out, reducing cigarette consumption is not nearly as good for your health as quitting altogether.
"They're not quitting, but they are reducing their smoking behavior," she said. "We don't know whether there's any health benefit if they continue to smoke, even if they are smoking less. However, if reducing helps an individual to quit eventually, then the health advantage becomes clear."