Cigarette affordability in the United States
Publication Source

Nicotine & Tobacco Research

Journal article
The Americas
Economy status
High-income economies
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Cigarette excise tax and price increases reduce smoking consumption and prevalence. Studies have previously defined cigarette affordability internationally and have discussed its relevance as a tobacco control policy measure. This study provides the first estimates on cigarette affordability in the United States.

Cigarette affordability was defined as cigarette price in relation to individuals’ income level. Three measures of cigarette affordability were estimated for U.S. states and nationally between 1970 and 2010.

In 2010, on average, it took 1.62% of an individual’s annual personal disposable income to purchase 100 packs of cigarettes in a U.S. state (relative income price). An individual who earned the equivalent of the hourly median wage in a U.S. state needed to work 21.4min in an hour to purchase a pack of cigarettes (minutes of labor, MoL50), whereas a relatively poorer individual earning the hourly 25th percentile wage needed to work 32.7min (MoL25). Cigarettes were most affordable in parts of the South and West and were least affordable in Northeastern states. While cigarette prices increased significantly between 1970 and 2008, affordability remained unchanged during this time and cigarettes may have become more affordable since the early 2000s in many states.

Cigarette affordability in 2010 varied widely across U.S. states, a result of cigarette price increases not keeping pace with income increases in some parts of the United States, especially in Southern and Western states. In order to maximize the public health gains from cigarette tax increases, state taxation policies may consider affordability in benchmarking excise tax increases.