The pass-through of excise taxes to market prices of heated tobacco products (HTPs) and cigarettes: a cross-country analysis

Eur J Health Econ. 2022 Jul 23. doi: 10.1007/s10198-022-01499-x. Online ahead of print.

Abstract

Background and objective: The market for heated tobacco products (HTPs) has grown markedly in recent years, and many governments have started to tax HTPs to regulate their use. To evaluate the impacts of HTP taxes on tobacco use behaviors and health consequences, we first need to assess if they effectively raise HTP prices in a tax system that also taxes cigarettes. This study jointly evaluates the pass-through of taxes to prices of HTPs and cigarettes.

Data and methods: We use a unique database on statutory HTP and cigarette taxes and retail prices of Marlboro-branded heated tobacco units and cigarettes from 2014 to 2021, developed by the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, in all countries where HTPs are sold. To estimate the pass-through of taxes to prices, we employ a seemingly unrelated regressions model. We also use an event study to test the impact of introducing HTPs to cigarette markets, as well as amending tax codes to include HTPs, on prices and price gaps.

Conclusions and policy implications: Currently, the debate over whether HTPs should be taxed in comparison with cigarettes considers their potential harm reduction impact, and most countries tax HTPs at much lower rates than cigarettes in order to keep HTP prices lower than cigarette prices. However, the direct pass-through rate of HTP taxes to prices is several times smaller than that of cigarettes, resulting in very similar unit prices of HTPs and cigarettes. Further, while cigarette taxes are over-shifted to cigarette prices, HTP taxes are under-shifted to HTP prices, suggesting that tax gaps between the two products does not translate to price gaps. The results overall suggest that the lower taxes on HTPs do not lead to lower prices as compared to cigarettes and are unlikely to incentivize cigarette smokers to transition to HTPS for lower costs. Under this scenario, taxing both products equivalently could be an option to raise additional tax revenue.

Keywords: Cigarette tax; Excise tax; Heated tobacco products; Pass-through; Pricing strategies; Tobacco.