According to a study published today in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research, about 50% of daily smokers in the Netherlands would continue smoking even if a pack of cigarettes cost €60 ($68).
And a full third would keep smoking if that theoretical pack of cigarettes cost €120 ($135), or $1,200 ($1,350) per 10-pack carton.
And a doubling of the price, from €6 to €12 per pack, would only persuade 10% of smokers to quit.
The study, conducted by researchers from the Netherlands’ University of Maastricht, investigated how likely people would be to keep smoking, even if the price increased by various amounts.
It also looked at what price would be needed to get smokers to stop buying tobacco altogether: the “breakpoint,” or the “lowest price where consumption equals zero.”
Daily smokers from all walks of life
The data came from a 40-minute survey, called the International Tobacco Control Netherlands Survey, which was conducted in early 2020.
The present study included almost 1,500 of those participants, all of them daily smokers from the Netherlands.
The participants were 48% men and 52% women, in many different age, education, and income ranges. They smoked on average about 15 cigarettes per day.
The survey included eight theoretical prices relative to the current price of cigarettes, and asked participants how these various prices would influence their smoking behavior.
The prices were 0x (i.e. free), 0.5x, 1x, 1.5x, 2x, 5x, 10x, and 20x the average market price per cigarette in 2019.
Price is no object
Almost a third of participants indicated their willingness to continue smoking cigarettes at any price, i.e. even at 20x the current price.
In the Netherlands, where cigarettes cost on average about €0.30 at the time of the survey (now closer to €0.36), that would amount to six euros per cigarette.
In other words, if a pack of cigarettes cost €120 ($135), meaning €1,200 / $1,350 per standard 10-pack carton, that would still not be expensive enough to discourage a third of the daily smokers who were surveyed for this study.
At double the current price, only about around 10% indicated they would stop buying tobacco.
In fact, considering how many participants were still willing to continue to consume tobacco even at the highest theoretical price, the researchers suggested that their maximum price level “may have been too small.”
Of note is that this study was limited to people who smoke daily. Past research has shown that smokers who do not smoke daily respond more strongly to price changes.
Tobacco prices vary widely
According to the researchers, people’s willingness to keep smoking even if prices vigintuple (that is, increase by a factor of 20x) illustrates “both the power of tobacco addiction and the affordability of tobacco in the Netherlands,” the researchers write.
Although the current study used a price €0.30 ($0.34 USD), or €6.00 ($6.80) for a pack of 20 cigarette, today a cigarette in the Netherlands costs on average about €0.36 ($0.41), or €7.20 ($8.10) for a pack of 20.
Though that’s slightly more than when the study took place, it is considerably cheaper than the United Kingdom, where people pay more than $15 per pack.
In Australia the average pack of cigarettes costs closer to $27 USD.
Prices in Eastern Europe are closer to about $3 per pack, and in Nigeria only $0.97 per pack.
In the United States, prices vary by region.
In New York, a pack of 20 cigarettes currently costs about $13, whereas smokers in southern states like Virginia, Missouri, and Tennessee pay closer to $5 per pack.
Taxes not high enough
The researchers see considerable scope for governments to increase the taxes on tobacco products, although they stress that the prices for manufactured versus hand-rolled cigarettes should remain in the same ballpark to prevent people from switching to rolling tobacco instead of quitting.
This study also shows that government efforts in the Netherlands to curb smoking through price hikes are, at least at their current levels, woefully inadequate.
The most recent Dutch tax increase on cigarette prices, from April 2020, effectively raised cigarette prices by only about 15%, and this was the largest such increase since the early 1990s.
The study also found that people with a lower income and a lower level of nicotine addiction — often young people — are particularly price sensitive.
But the researchers also say it remains important to combine tax hikes with other measures, such as reimbursing the costs of smoking-cessation courses.
Study: “Demand for Factory-Made Cigarettes and Roll-Your-Own Tobacco and Differences Between Age and Socioeconomic Groups: Findings From the International Tobacco Control Netherlands Survey”
Authors: Cloé Geboers, Ce Shang, Gera E Nagelhout, Hein de Vries, Bas van den Putte, Geoffrey T Fong, J J M Candel, Marc C Willemsen
Published in: Nicotine & Tobacco Research
Publication date: November 23, 2021
Photo: Stas Svechnikov via Unsplash