Paper: Increased cigarette taxes may reduce smoking by over 18% in people with alcohol, drug or mental disorders..

June 3, 2010 - Over 40% of all US smokers have comorbid alcohol, drug, or mental disorders. A new study suggests that increasing cigarette taxes could be an effective way to reduce smoking among individuals with alcohol, drug or mental disorders.

PAPER: Sensitivity to Cigarette Prices Among Individuals With Alcohol, Drug, or Mental Disorders, Michael K. Ong, Qiong Zhou, Hai-Yen Sung, American Journal of Public Health, 10.2105/AJPH.2009.159962, ABSTRACT..

The study found that a 10 percent increase in cigarette pricing resulted in an 18.2 percent decline in smoking among people in these groups. The findings demonstrate that increasing cigarette taxes could be a way to curb smoking, which is still the leading preventable cause of death in the United States, according to the study's lead author, Dr. Michael Ong, an assistant professor of medicine in the division of general internal medicine and health services research at the Geffen School of Medicine.

Though the researchers found that people with alcohol dependence did not cut down on cigarettes when prices rose, people with binge-drinking problems, substance-use disorders and mental disorders were significantly more likely to quit smoking if prices rose, as would occur with a cigarette tax increase.

National data show that every 10% increase in cigarette excise tax reduces cigarette consumption among the general population by 4% (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Guide to Community Preventive Services - Tobacco). Evidence suggests that youth are up to three times more sensitive to price than adults and that because 90% of smokers start as teens, higher taxes can sharply reduce smoking rates in the long run (Chaloupka, F. J. (2001, November). Tobacco Taxation. Presentation conducted at the National Conference of State Legislatures 5th National Health Policy Conference, Seattle, WA.).

A joint study from the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research matched price hikes with teen smoking rates over six years. They found that a 10% price increase would decrease the number of children who started to smoke between 3% and 10%, depending on their stage of smoking, such as experimentation, beginning daily smoking, or relatively heavy daily smoking. (How to Fight Teen Smoking, American Cancer Society (ACS))
Prior research on the effect of cigarette pricing on smoking, which had been conducted using information from 1991, suggested that individuals with mental illness were less likely than other individuals to quit due to price increases. Unlike that research, however, the current study expanded the research to include people with alcohol and drug disorders.

The researchers based their work on data from 7,530 individuals from the 2000–01 Healthcare for Communities Household Survey. Of those, 2,106 people, or 23 percent, had alcohol, drug or mental disorders during the previous year. Of that group, 43.8 percent were smokers — a much higher proportion than among rest of the population.

While the study does suggest that increasing cigarette prices through taxation could reduce smoking among individuals with alcohol, drug or mental disorders, the authors note that further study is needed to determine if recent cigarette price increases have reduced smoking among individuals with such disorders, and whether the identified association is causal.

Reference: Tobacco tax hike could curb smoking among those with alcohol, drug or mental disorders by Enrique Rivero, UCLA Newsroom, 6/2/2010.