Monday, 02 Jul, 2007 Health & Fitness

Cigarette Price Increase Results in Bootlegging Boost


The significantly increased cigarette tax has reinforced smoking and diminished the results of cessation services. It has partially reduced tobacco use but caused a dramatic rise in illegal untaxed cigarettes sales on the streets of low-income minority communities, as showed the study organized by Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health researchers.

The study concentrated on examining how the life in a disadvantaged minority neighborhood effected smoking policies on personal tobacco use. Study participants from Central Harlem, New York claimed that increased cigarette taxes in New York City led to the growth of illegal cigarette market in a poverty-stricken minority community. In the regions with higher smoking rates than in other areas, the attention of individuals motivated to quit smoking was switched to bootleggers offering low-price cigarettes.

The interviewed smokers displayed high interest in quitting the bad habit. However, bootleggers made discounted cigarettes more accessible than cessation services. Cigarettes produced by popular brands are available on the streets for just $5 per pack. Here appears the phenomenon of 'the $5 man', the term used to determine a highly visible bootleggers' network being a new source of low-price cigarettes.

Most smokers told researches they more than once bought cigarettes from the $5 man on the street, in crowded shopping centers, in apartment buildings, and at subway entrances. Other smokers bought illegally sold 'loosies' - out-of-package cigarettes available at local grocery stores.

Obviously, purchasing low-priced cigarettes from the $5 man turned out to be the principal behavioral response to the increased tax. Almost all smokers tried to quit for a few times, yet the abundance of reduced-price cigarettes made the majority of smokers change their purchasing patterns rather than quit smoking.

Smokers from Harlem consider smoking to be a way of reducing stress they experience because of low incomes and high unemployment rate. Programs and policies introduced for altering health risk behaviors turn out to be insufficient without considering the structural inequalities and other social factors that promote nicotine addiction and shape personal attitudes and behaviors.

In New York City, the cigarette tax increase was followed by special programs aimed to diminish socioeconomic disparities in smoking prevalence. Cessation services provided free counseling and free nicotine patches, as well as pharmaco-therapy available through several smoking cessation clinics located in disadvantaged minority communities. Moreover, New York State has provided a Medicaid pharmaco-therapy benefit prior the tax increase. Yet, the study showed that very few of the interviewed smokers were aware of the cessation resources.

The researches came to the conclusion it is necessary to investigate the reasons why disadvantaged populations with the highest smoking rates do not manage to make use of cessation resources and also take measures to stop smuggling.

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