The compensating behavior of smokers: taxes, tar, and nicotine

Rand J Econ. 1998 Fall;29(3):578-95.


Using data from the 1979 and 1987 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), we test whether smokers alter their smoking habits in the face of higher taxes. Smokers in high-tax states are more likely to smoke cigarettes higher in tar and nicotine. Although taxes reduce the number of cigarettes consumed per day among remaining smokers, total daily tar and nicotine intake is unaffected. Young smokers, aged 18-24, are much more responsive to changes in taxes than are older smokers, and their total daily tar and nicotine intake actually increases after a tax hike. We illustrate that tax-induced compensating behavior may eliminate some health benefits generated by reduced smoking participation. A more appropriate tax might be based on the tar and nicotine content of cigarettes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Health Behavior*
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Models, Economic
  • Nicotine
  • Smoking / mortality
  • Smoking Prevention*
  • Taxes* / statistics & numerical data
  • United States


  • Nicotine