The economics of smoking

Jan 25, 2011 by Matt Terry

( -- Phil DeCicca studies the economics of one of the country's top killers - smoking. A health economist by trade, DeCicca researches the impact public policies have on the habits of smokers: Does the rate of smoking change with increased cigarette prices? Does age play a role? At what point do taxes encourage smokers to turn to smuggling?

When faced with these questions as well as the overwhelming evidence of smoking's negative impact on human health, many in the field fast become anti-smoking advocates. DeCicca, however, prides himself on his ability to remain an impartial researcher.

"I'm looking to understand the impact of policies, not what I want to be true."

Still, that didn't stop him from celebrating when his own father recently quit , after years of prodding from his family. He did begin his academic career as a pre- medical student, after all.

DeCicca, an assistant professor of economics, was recently given a Tier II Canada Research Chair in Public Economics to continue his studies into the effectiveness of cigarette tax policy, part of a $12-million dollar investment in McMaster research announced by the federal government in November.

"We've discovered that most people don't quit smoking when higher taxes are added to the cost of cigarettes," said DeCicca. "Now we need to understand why that is. "

holds that younger are more likely to quit due to increases in the cost of cigarettes than older, more established smokers, however DeCicca's research has found otherwise.

"There is actually a fairly small responsiveness to cigarette taxes," he said. "It's just not the case that most smokers quit when taxes increase. I would say that the largest effects imply that a one dollar tax increase would lead, at most, ten per cent of smokers to quit."

avoidance behaviours, such as smuggling, cross-border purchasing and the buying of illegal cigarettes from so-called "smoke shacks" - all of which some smokers turn to when prices climb - rank among some of DeCicca's current topics of interest.

A former winner of the Polanyi Prize, DeCicca is hoping to further expand his research to include things like the impact of higher cigarette taxes on birth outcomes - essentially, determining whether taxes affect maternal smoking behaviours - and on asthma and other respiratory conditions.

"I've always been interested in the impact of public policies on individual behaviours, and I've also always been interested in health, so combining the two is natural for me."

Explore further: The economics of age gaps and marriage

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

CDC: Cigarette taxes rose in 14 states last year

Apr 08, 2010

(AP) -- Fourteen states, the nation's capital and the federal government hiked their cigarette taxes last year, but health officials worry that tobacco company discounts are keeping prices down.

Avoid the hookah and save your teeth

Nov 08, 2005

Researchers say smoking a hookah is becoming increasingly trendy item in Mediterranean restaurants, cafes and bars -- but it can damage your teeth.

Recommended for you

Family financing is anything but foolish

1 hour ago

Borrowing money from a family member or friend to start a business is often considered dangerous, both financially and emotionally, however new research conducted by an entrepreneurial expert at the University of Adelaide ...

The economics of age gaps and marriage

Oct 30, 2014

Men and women who are married to spouses of similar ages are smarter, more successful and more attractive compared to couples with larger age gaps, according to a paper from CU Denver Economics Assistant Professor Hani Mansour ...

Do financial experts make better investments?

Oct 28, 2014

Financial experts do not make higher returns on their own investments than untrained investors, according to research by a Michigan State University business scholar.

Lack of A level maths leading to fewer female economists

Oct 28, 2014

A study by the University of Southampton has found there are far fewer women studying economics than men, with women accounting for just 27 per cent of economics students, despite them making up 57 per cent of the undergraduate ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.