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New Study Proves Higher Cigarette Prices Prevent Teens from Becoming Smokers

April 24, 2001

Washington, DC — Higher cigarette prices keep teenagers from becoming regular, addicted smokers, according to a new study released today by researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research.

While previous research demonstrates that higher prices reduce smoking, especially among youth, today's study provides critical new information about the impact of cigarette prices on young people as they first begin to smoke. By tracking the smoking behavior of the same youth over a period of up to six years, it provides powerful new evidence that higher cigarette prices discourage teens from experimenting with cigarettes and are especially effective at preventing teens from becoming regular addicted smokers. This is the nation's first study on the impact of cigarette prices that tracks youth smokers over this long a period of time.

'Today's study shows conclusively that raising cigarette excise taxes is one of the most effective policies states can implement to prevent kids from starting to smoke and taking the steps that lead to addiction,' said William V. Corr, Executive Vice President of the CAMPAIGN FOR TOBACCO-FREE KIDS. 'Raising cigarette taxes is a win-win situation for states. It protects kids from smoking and raises much-needed revenue for states facing budget shortfalls that threaten vital programs.'

Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States, killing more than 400,000 Americans every year and costing nearly $90 billion in annual health care expenditures. Ninety percent of smokers start at or before age 18. More than 3,000 kids become regular smokers every day; one-third of them will die prematurely of a tobacco-related disease. Nationally, 34.8 percent of high school students are smokers.

Today's study was released as a growing number of states consider whether to increase cigarette excise taxes to reduce smoking rates and increase state revenues. For example, the Alliance for a Healthy New England was formed last fall in the country's first multi-state campaign to raise tobacco taxes. The group, which was founded by the American Cancer Society's New England Division, the Council of New England State Medical Societies, and Community Catalyst, a national consumer advocacy organization, is pressing for a minimum tax increase of 50 cents per pack in each of the six New England states.

In addition, the Indiana Legislature is currently considering Gov. Frank O'Bannon's proposal to increase the state's cigarette tax by 50 cents, to 65.5 cents per pack, to help address a $923 million budget shortfall and avoid cuts in education and other programs. In Washington State, public health advocates are kicking off a campaign this month to collect signatures for a ballot initiative to increase the state's cigarette tax.

Other states considering a cigarette tax increase include Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland and Nebraska.

Researchers surveyed students who were in the 8th and 10th grades in 1991, 1992 and 1993. From each group, 2,000 8th graders and 2,000 10th graders were selected to be followed-up via mail surveys for up to six years following the initial survey.

The study found that a ten percent increase in the price of cigarettes would decrease the number of children who start to smoke between three percent and ten percent depending upon their stage of smoking. Three basic stages of tobacco use were examined – initiation of any smoking (including experimentation), initiation of daily smoking, and initiation of relatively heavy daily smoking. Price was found to have the greatest impact on preventing kids from becoming daily and relatively heavy daily smokers.

According to a CAMPAIGN FOR TOBACCO-FREE KIDS analysis based on this study, if cigarette prices were raised 10 percent per pack nationwide, it would reduce the number of kids who become regular smokers by over a million. It would also save more than 350,000 kids alive today from dying prematurely from smoking-caused disease.

All 50 states and the District of Columbia now impose excise taxes on cigarettes, ranging from 2.5 cents per pack in Virginia to $1.11 per pack in New York. But many states haven't raised excise taxes in many years: 36 states have not raised cigarette taxes for at least five years, 17 have not raised them for at least a decade and six have not raised them in at least 20 years. States that have recently done so, such as New York and California, have seen tax revenues increase while cigarette consumption has declined.

The study was conducted by John A. Tauras, Ph.D., an economist at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), along with Patrick O'Malley, Ph.D., and Lloyd Johnston, Ph.D., both with the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research. This study is part of the Bridging the Gap initiative, a five-year project to improve understanding of how policies and other environmental factors influence youth substance abuse. The project is funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the nation's largest health philanthropy organization.

The report: 'Effects of Price and Access Laws on Teenage Smoking Initiation: A National Longitudinal Analysis,' is available at the UIC web site under 'Papers and Presentations' at:

More information on state tobacco excise taxes and their effects on smoking rates and state revenue are available in the Campaign's special report.