Left-digit price effects on smoking cessation motivation

Background Cigarette price increases have been associated with increases in smoking cessation, but relatively little is known about this relationship at the level of individual smokers. To address this and to inform tax policy, the goal of this study was to apply a behavioural economic approach to the relationship between the price of cigarettes and the probability of attempting smoking cessation.

Methods Adult daily smokers (n=1074; ie, 5+ cigarettes/day; 18+ years old; ≥8th grade education) completed in-person descriptive survey assessments. Assessments included estimated probability of making a smoking cessation attempt across a range of cigarette prices, demographics and nicotine dependence.

Results As price increases, probability of making a smoking cessation attempt exhibited an orderly increase, with the form of the relationship being similar to an inverted demand curve. The largest effect size increases in motivation to make a quit attempt were in the form of ‘left-digit effects,’ (ie, maximal sensitivity across pack price whole-number changes; eg, US$5.80–6/pack). Significant differences were also observed among the left-digit effects, suggesting the most substantial effects were for price changes that were most market relevant. Severity of nicotine dependence was significantly associated with price sensitivity, but not for all indices.

Conclusions These data reveal the clear and robust relationship between the price of cigarettes and an individual’s motivation to attempt smoking cessation. Furthermore, the current study indicates the importance of left-digit price transitions in this relationship, suggesting policymakers should consider relative price positions in the context of tax changes.

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July 2013

James MacKillop
Michael T Amlung
Ashley Blackburn
James G Murphy
Maureen Carrigan
Matthew J Carpenter
Frank Chaloupka