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Cigarette Tax Unlikely to Deter Some Smokers: Report

FRIDAY, July 15 (HealthDay News) -- In an attempt to get smokers to kick the harmful habit, a number of governments have raised taxes on cigarettes, yet many people remain undeterred by the price increases, according to a new Canadian study.

But the public health measure has prompted at least some low-income and middle-income smokers to quit, the researchers recently reported in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

After gathering information from a Canadian National Population Health Survey from 1998-1999 to 2008-2009, and analyzing three age groups of daily smokers (12 to 24 years, 25 to 44 years and 45 to 65 years), researchers from Concordia University in Montreal found that the 25- to 44-year age group was the least affected by cigarette taxes. Higher cigarette prices did not dissuade wealthier smokers from lighting up either, the study found.

"Contrary to most studies, we find that the middle-aged group, which constitutes the largest fraction of smokers in our sample, is largely unresponsive to taxes," study first author Sunday Azagba, a doctoral candidate in the economics department at Concordia, said in a university news release. "While cigarette taxes remain popular with policy makers as a key anti-smoking measure, their effectiveness largely depends on how people respond to them."

Policy makers' efforts to motivate people to quit by raising the taxes on cigarettes have primarily targeted groups such as high school students, the study authors noted.

"Overall, it was smokers from lower socioeconomic groups who are more price-responsive than those from higher socioeconomic groups," said study co-author Mesbah Sharaf, also a Ph.D. candidate in the Concordia economics department, in the news release. "If there is a 10 percent increase in taxes, then smoking participation will fall by about 2.3 percent."

People who did not graduate from high school were also more likely to smoke than those with higher education, the authors pointed out. "If smokers are sophisticated about their self-control and responsive to prices, taxes could act as a self-control incentive for them," said Azagba. "Higher taxes for some people, when consumption of addictive goods is driven by cues, may be counterproductive."

An estimated 5 million people worldwide die each year because of smoking-related illnesses, according to the World Health Organization. These deaths are expected to reach 8 million per year by 2030.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides tips on how to quit smoking.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

SOURCE: Concordia University, news release, July 13, 2011

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