Rising cigarette prices have overtaken health concerns as the main motivator to cut down or quit smoking.
Researchers from the University of Queensland have analyzed data from a national survey and found that the cost of cigarettes has become the main reason why Australian smokers try to quit.
Associate Professor Coral Gartner from UQ School of Public Health said the shift in motivation coincided with a shift in government focus from educational anti-tobacco campaigns in the mass media to targeting the price of cigarettes.
Tobacco taxes in Australia increased by 25% in 2010 and by 12.5% per year between 2013 and 2020.
Some people who plan to quit smoking in the future for health reasons may be more inclined to try now when they have to pay $40 for a pack of cigarettes.
Cost of living pressures are clearly a big factor for some people to take the next step.”
Dr. Coral Gartner, Associate Professor, UQ School of Public Health
Among those who succeeded in quitting smoking in 2019, 48% indicated that their main motivation was the high price of cigarettes, compared to 30% in 2007.
The study found that those most affected by high cigarette prices were those who lived in low-income areas, smoked heavily, drank alcohol, and experienced high to very high psychological distress.
Lead author and PhD student Ara Cho said the high cost of cigarettes had also led to other changes in smoking behaviors, such as changing tobacco brands or switching to roll-your-own cigarettes.
“Increasing tobacco taxes can have a positive impact on people by motivating them to quit smoking or reduce their tobacco consumption, which in turn improves their overall health and finances,” Ms Cho said.
“But not all consumers are motivated by higher prices.
“There needs to be more government support for people who find it difficult to quit, to reduce the potential damage from rising costs.”
Dr. Gartner welcomed any measures that encourage and support people to quit or cut down on smoking.
“This could include limiting the number of places where cigarettes are sold,” she said.
“Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death worldwide, killing more than 7 million people a year, including nearly 21,000 in Australia.
“Instead of being sold in all supermarkets and convenience stores, cigarettes should only be available in a limited number of outlets – and possibly even phased out.”
Dr Gartner said she was encouraged by a recent proposal in the UK to tax cigarette manufacturers directly.
“The tobacco industry, rather than the government, should be made to pay for the costs of smoking-related illnesses, aid to help people quit smoking, and the industry’s environmental impacts.”
This study was based on data collected as part of the National Anti-Drug Strategy Household Survey 2007-2019.
The research is published in the international journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research.
The University of Queensland
Cho, A. et al. (2022) Motivations for changing smoking-related behaviors between 2007 and 2019 in Australia: a repeated cross-sectional study. Nicotine and Tobacco Research. doi.org/10.1093/ntr/ntac176.