A study has suggested that because cheap tobacco is available in the UK, that raising prices of the product is not as effective in helping people who want to quit smoking. The scientists were based at the University of and King’s College, London and the study was published in Nicotine & Tobacco Research online.
World Health Organisation guidelines suggest that one of the most effective means to encourage people to quit smoking is to increase the price of tobacco. This longitudinal cohort study examined cheap tobacco use trends among adult smokers in the UK. The scientists examined a number of different types of tobacco that were available in the UK. They included RYO or roll-your-own tobacco, factory-made packs or FM-P and factory-made cartons or FM-C. The prices of all the products increased significantly but not substantially throughout the study period. The scientists found that because of wide price ranges, some of each type of product could be bought at prices below the 2002 medians in 2014. This was despite the UK having some of the highest tobacco prices globally.
The participants were taken from the UK arm of the International Tobacco Control project (ITC), who were all adult smokers (18+). People who quit smoking were still followed up in the study. The participants were all followed up annually, although some years did not have any taken. The study logged the last type of tobacco bought, then asked if this was the usual brand. Care was taken to include illegal sources of buying tobacco. UK store-based sources included supermarkets, tobacconists and convenience stores. Non-UK/nonstore sources included friends and family, duty-free, informal sellers, the Internet and overseas sellers. The study also included an ‘other’ category for remaining sources, which had a low response rate. The researchers calculated the ‘price per stick’ from the last purchase, using 0.50g tobacco per cigarette as a guide to help calculate the price for RYO.
The study showed a significant increase in the use of roll-your-own tobacco, purchased in UK stores, over the time studied. This coincided with a decrease in people exclusively using factory-made packets of cigarettes. The purchases from supermarkets as opposed to convenience stores also had increased by 2014. Purchases from non-UK/nonstores decreased over time. Average price of cigarettes increased from 27p in 2002 to 37p in 2014 and roll-your-own tobacco increased from 12p to 17p, which is still considerably cheaper.
The researchers concluded that there were a number of options that still allowed UK smokers to buy tobacco at a cheaper price, which was offsetting the public health impact of increasing tobacco prices through tax. Consumers were still buying their tobacco through UK shops, but more were buying roll-your-own tobacco and the exclusive use of factory made cigarettes was decreasing. Smokers were less likely to stay loyal to a brand when they used a mix of roll-your own tobacco and packs of branded cigarettes. The formula used by the researchers indicated that it was possible to buy all three types of tobacco legally at prices which were on average below the 2002 prices. They disagreed that the use of illegal cigarettes was not the most common source of cheap tobacco sources in the UK. Online and phone purchases were also not increased. The scientists attributed the decrease in brand loyalty to the 2008 economic recession.
The results from the study lead the scientists to conclude that more could be done to ensure that prices of tobacco are increased, including setting price-cap regulations, a specific tax structure for tobacco and banning the sale of cigarette cartons as well as more regulation for duty-free purchases. They particularly suggest a large increase for roll-your-own tobacco to bring it more into line with cigarettes.
Stoptober 2017 is a month long campaign to encourage smokers to improve their health and quit smoking for 28 days.
Partos, TR., et al., Availability and use of cheap tobacco in the United Kingdom 2002-2014: findings from the International Tobacco Control Project, May 2017, Nicotine & Tobacco Research, ntx108