Smoking Bans, Higher Taxes Can Lower Smoking Rates

To discourage young people from smoking, both higher taxes and smoking bans seem to do the trick, but each method works best with a different type of smoker, according to a new study.

The researchers found that bans work best at limiting smoking among more casual users, or those who smoked less than a pack a day. On the other hand, heavy taxes worked best with those who smoked more than a pack a day.

“Both taxes and bans have their place. But bans might stop casual smokers from becoming heavy tobacco users,” said Dr. Mike Vuolo, lead author of the study and assistant professor of sociology at Ohio State University.

“If you think of casual smoking as the beginning of the path to addiction, then bans might be the way to go.”

The research is the first to investigate how city-level government policies, both taxes and bans, affect actual smokers. Vuolo conducted the study with Brian Kelly and Joy Kadowaki of Purdue University.

“We’re not just looking at how state policies affect smoking rates in general. We were able to determine how individual smokers reacted to changes in government policies at the city level,” Vuolo said. “We were never able to get to that level of detail before.”

Another important finding was that combining smoking bans with high taxes didn’t reduce overall smoking rates in a city more than either of the policies by itself.

For the study, the researchers used smoking data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997. This survey involved 4,341 people from 487 cities who were interviewed every year from 2004 to 2011. All participants were between the age of 19 and 31 during the study.

Data on city-level smoking bans and tax rates came from the Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation (ANRF) tobacco policy database.

The database included information on which participants lived in cities where there was a comprehensive smoking ban, which means that restaurants, bars, and workplaces are completely tobacco free with no indoor exceptions. It also provided information on the total state and local tobacco excise taxes for cigarette packs sold in each city.

The researchers found big changes in both bans and taxes between 2004 to 2011. The percentage of people living in a city with a comprehensive ban increased from 14.9 percent to 58.7 percent during that time, while average taxes increased from 81 cents to $1.65 per pack.

The cities with the highest rates of smoking were those that had no smoking bans and low or no taxes on cigarettes, Vuolo said.

The findings show that people living in cities with bans were 21 percent less likely to currently smoke at all when compared to those who lived in cities without bans. But taxes did not have a significant effect on casual smokers.

“There’s a lot of evidence that casual, social smokers are influenced by their environment. If they can’t smoke inside with their friends at a restaurant or bar, they may choose not to smoke at all,” Vuolo said.

In contrast, respondents who smoked more than a pack a day were primarily deterred, not by the bans, but by the higher taxes.

Furthermore, since the combination of high taxes with smoking bans didn’t have a greater impact on smoking rates means that policymakers have several effective options for tobacco control, Vuolo said.

“They are both effective in different ways. Smoking bans might be more effective in preventing new smokers, but it definitely pays to do something,” he said. “The worst case is not having bans or taxes.”

The findings are published online in the American Journal of Public Health.

Source: Ohio State University