Effect of Cigarette Prices on Smoking Initiation and Cessation in China: A Duration Analysis

Background: China is the world’s largest producer and consumer of cigarettes. The status of tobacco as both a contributor to China’s economy and a liability for the health of its population may complicate the use of taxes for addressing smoking in the country. Understanding how cigarette prices affect transitions in smoking behaviour in China can increase understanding of how China’s high smoking rates can be influenced by tax policy.

Methods: In order to estimate the effect of cigarette prices on smoking initiation and cessation in China, we construct pseudo-longitudinal samples for duration analysis using data from the Global Adult Tobacco Survey China 2010. We use the historical variation in prices representative of 4 China regions over a 20-year period to identify the average price effect on the hazards of initiation and cessation while controlling for unobserved fixed and time-varying region characteristics.

Findings: We find that initiation rates fall in response to higher prices (with a price elasticity of initiation estimated at −0.95 for men and −1.07 overall).

Conclusions: The effect of prices on smoking in China is likely to occur through averting initiation over time. At the population level, cessation behaviour may be less responsive to price increases as the wide range of cigarette prices in China may provide relatively high opportunity for switching to lower priced brands.

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September 2016