Quasi-experimental evidence on tobacco tax regressivity
Publication Source

Social Science & Medicine

Journal article
Economy status
Upper-middle-income economies
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Tobacco taxes are known to reduce tobacco consumption and to be regressive, such that tobacco control policy may have the perverse effect of further harming the poor. However, if tobacco consumption falls faster amongst the poor than the rich, tobacco control policy can actually be progressive. We take advantage of persistent and committed tobacco control activities in South Africa to examine the household tobacco expenditure burden. For the analysis, we make use of two South African Income and Expenditure Surveys (2005/06 and 2010/11) that span a series of such tax increases and have been matched across the years, yielding 7806 matched pairs of tobacco consuming households and 4909 matched pairs of cigarette consuming households. By matching households across the surveys, we are able to examine both the regressivity of the household tobacco burden, and any change in that regressivity, and since tobacco taxes have been a consistent component of tobacco prices, our results also relate to the regressivity of tobacco taxes. Like previous research into cigarette and tobacco expenditures, we find that the tobacco burden is regressive; thus, so are tobacco taxes. However, we find that over the five-year period considered, the tobacco burden has decreased, and, most importantly, falls less heavily on the poor. Thus, the tobacco burden and the tobacco tax is less regressive in 2010/11 than in 2005/06. Thus, increased tobacco taxes can, in at least some circumstances, reduce the financial burden that tobacco places on households.