Smoking bans may be more effective than raising taxes

While both methods reduce smoking, bans prevent casual smokers from lighting up at all while heavier smokers just buy fewer cigarettes.
By Stephen Feller   |   Dec. 23, 2015 at 6:09 PM

COLUMBUS, Ohio, Dec. 23 (UPI) -- New research shows raising taxes on cigarettes and banning smoking in public places are both effective at discouraging smoking, but bans keep more people from developing heavier habits -- leading to less smoking overall.

The two methods were both found to be effective at lowering smoking rates, though, according to a new study conducted at Ohio State University.

The difference between the two has to do with smoking habits, the researchers said. With taxes, heavier smokers, especially those who smoke more than one pack per day, are likely to light up less to avoid spending the extra money. Lighter smokers, however, are a product of their environment: If they can't smoke, they won't, and will end up smoking less.

Overall, the number of smokers in the United States has reached an all-time low and teenagers now prefer marijuana to tobacco, according to recent studies, both of which experts have said show anti-smoking efforts have been successful across the country.

"Both taxes and bans have their place. But bans might stop casual smokers from becoming heavy tobacco users," said Michael Vuolo, an assistant professor of sociology at Ohio State University, in a press release. "If you think of casual smoking as the beginning of the path to addiction, then bans might be the way to go."

Researchers in the study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, analyzed data on 4,341 people in 487 cities collected as part of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997, which interviewed participants every year from 2004 to 2011. Data on city-level smoking bans and tax rates came from the Americans for Nonsmokers Rights Foundation's tobacco policy database.

From 2004 to 2011, participants in the study who lived in a city that comprehensively banned smoking indoors increased from 14.9 percent to 58.7 percent. The average tax on a pack of cigarettes during that time increased from 81 cents to $1.65 per pack.

Cities with the highest rates of smoking tended to be ones with no increased taxes or bans. People in cities with bans were found, however, to be 21 percent less likely to smoke. Taxes had no effect on casual smokers.

"They are both effective in different ways. Smoking bans might be more effective in preventing new smokers, but it definitely pays to do something," Vuolo said. "The worst case is not having bans or taxes."

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