Smoking bans and taxes, do they work?

British researchers say some of the recent strategies employed to reduce the dangers of smoking may not be as effective as imagined.

Dr. Francesca Cornaglia, an economist at Queen Mary University, London, says smoking bans in bars and restaurants could be forcing smokers back to homes where children's health could be affected and the bans may be doing more harm than good.

Dr. Cornaglia also suggests that heavily taxing cigarettes may not improve the health of smokers, because smokers compensate by extracting more nicotine from each cigarette.

Dr. Cornaglia who works in labour economics, applied micro-econometrics and health economics, has written a number of papers on the economics of smoking.

Public health policies aimed at reducing smoking as a rule focus on smoking bans and the price of tobacco which is thought to have a significant effect on the number of cigarettes smoked.

Dr. Cornaglia suggests these strategies may have been based on an imprecise measure of smoking; she says as a reaction to changes in prices, smokers adjust not only the quantity of cigarettes smoked, but also the intensity with which they smoke them.

This compensatory behaviour in turn offsets part of the price effect on the number of cigarettes smoked.

Dr. Cornaglia says smoking restrictions in public places may encourage smokers to displace smoking to private places where they contaminate non smokers, in particular young children.

Dr. Cornaglia and colleague Jérôme Adda analysed the nicotine levels of more than 30,000 non-smokers in the United States between 1998 and 2001 after smoking bans came into effect in some states.

Their research revealed that while bans on public transport and in schools decreased exposure to nicotine, bans in bars and restaurants increased exposure, notably among young children.

Dr. Cornaglia says when the bans became stricter in public recreational areas, an increase in nicotine in children was seen.

Dr. Cornaglia says such bans lead to behavioural changes and when smokers can no longer smoke in restaurants and bars they may look for alternatives such as staying at home.

However Dr. Cornaglia says smoking bans might be beneficial in the long term because they might encourage parents to quit.

The researchers say previous research which measured smoking only by the number of cigarettes smoked was an imprecise measure because smokers adjust not only the number of cigarettes smoked but also the amount of nicotine they extract.

The authors presented their research "Taxes, Cigarette Consumption and Smoking Intensity", this week at the Australian National University, presented by the Economics Program and the ‘Productive Australia in the World Economy’ theme in the Research School of Social Sciences.

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