Cigarette price rise: why it doesn’t affect poor smokers

Man smoking a cigarette

If you were given the task of reducing cigarette use, what would you do? Chances are that you would, like most governments, increase the taxes on tobacco and respectively – the cost. But have you ever thought, what the actual effects are? Well, a study called “It’s all we got left” might surprise you with the answer.

You probably have a hunch that the price increase will encourage everyone to consider quitting smoking. However, in real life, things are a bit more complicated.

According to the World Health Organization, cigarette smoking is the second major cause of death with about 8 million deaths every year. Of these 8 million, about 1.2 million are non-smoking victims of secondhand smoke. In France, tobacco abuse causes 60,000 premature deaths annually.

Cigarette price rise in France

Man smoking a cigarette in sad appartment
Person smoking a cigarette / Photo by Sebastián León Prado / Unsplash

In an attempt to reduce mortality and to encourage smoking cessation, the French government increased cigarette prices by 66% over an 8-year period. The aftermath of these measures was not exactly as predicted. The effects were studied by scientists of French National Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM) and Université Aix Marseille. In the study, three socioeconomic groups were designated – executive managers and professional occupations, manual laborers, and unemployed.

The timeline data shows that among the wealthiest category, there were 7% fewer smokers after the price increase. However, among the manual laborers, there was hardly any change. What’s more surprising is that, amongst the unemployed, there was a 6% increase in the number of cigarette users. Interestingly, the cigarette cost in France is the seventh highest in the world, with the prices in Australia and New Zealand taking the first two spots.

Several factors have led to this outcome. First of all, most of the unemployed reported a feeling of overwhelming loneliness. Smoking cigarettes is considered, by the users, a means of fighting the sensation. Moreover, many participants in the study think that there are more benefits to smoking. Some of the most popular are stress relief, increased socialization, and weight loss.

Evidently, the classical anti-smoking measures are almost always fruitless. So what can we do? As we’ve already mentioned, this study has shown that the main cause of smoking prevalence amongst the poor is the feeling of loneliness and idleness. Instead of repeating the same mistake, we could try to eradicate the root of the problem. We can provide the people with more opportunities for leisure activities and socialization. Not only might this reduce smoking-related deaths, but it might also transform us into a happier and healthier society.

Top photo by Amritanshu Sikdar / Unsplash

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