Higher Prices Won't Stop Teenage Smokers

ITHACA, N.Y. -- Boosting taxes on cigarettes will have a far less dramatic effect on rates of teen-age smoking than politicians are hoping, a new Cornell University study finds. In fact, say the researchers, higher taxes will have "a statistically insignificant impact" on whether young people decide to start smoking.

The Cornell researchers say that a 20-cent a pack tax increase would reduce the number of new teen-age smokers in grades 8-12 by less than one-half a percentage point. They estimate that a $1.50 a pack tax boost would reduce the number by about two percentage points. Some researchers have estimated this tax increase would reduce the number by as much as half.

The study was carried out by Don Kenkel and Alan Mathios, both economists and associate professors in policy analysis and management in Cornell's College of Human Ecology, and Phil Decicca, a graduate student in their department.

Their findings are particularly relevant in light of the bill approved by the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee last week that would raise cigarette prices by $1.10 a pack over the next five years with hopes of cutting teen-age smoking by 40 percent over the next 10 years. Also, President Clinton has said he favors price hikes by as much as $1.50 a pack in order to cut youth smoking by half over the next 10 years. Although smoking has dropped to 25 percent of U.S. adults from 40 percent since 1964, teen-age smoking has been rising since 1990.

"This reliance on higher prices as a way to discourage youth smoking has widespread support, yet our study indicates that higher prices don't work to deter youth smoking," says Mathios.

"There is good evidence that higher taxes reduce total tobacco sales and adult smoking," says Kenkel, a health economist with strong interests in public-policy issues. "Higher taxes reduce adult smoking by encouraging current smokers to cut down or quit." However, he says, the latest study shows that "higher taxes w

Contact: Susan S. Lang
Cornell University News Service

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