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Is cost becoming an increasingly determining factor in quitting smoking?

Long maligned in many countries, could the steady rise in tobacco prices finally prove to be a deterrent?

Published: Apr 24, 2024 04:29:02 PM IST
Updated: Apr 24, 2024 10:05:33 PM IST

Is cost becoming an increasingly determining factor in quitting smoking?In England, the cost of smoking is becoming a decisive factor in quitting. Image: Krakenimages.com / Shutterstock©

As their purchasing power falls, consumers are doing everything they can to save money, which could ultimately lead to a decline in smoking. In England, the price of tobacco is slowly but surely driving more and more smokers to stub out their last cigarette. According to a new study, one adult in four now sees the cost of smoking as a key motive for kicking the habit once and for all.

Long maligned in many countries, particularly in Europe, could the steady rise in tobacco prices finally prove to be a deterrent? It would seem so, if only because of the fall in purchasing power suffered by consumers, as revealed by a new study conducted by UK researchers.

They examined the main reasons given by a sample of adults in England for quitting smoking over several periods, between March 2018 and May 2023, highlighting certain distinctions according to age, gender, socioeconomic status and parental status. This drew on responses to the monthly Smoking Toolkit survey, carried out among a sample of around 1,700 adults in England who are current or former smokers.

"Health concerns are generally the primary motive for people trying to stop smoking, with social and financial concerns, plus advice from a health professional, also commonly cited reasons," the researchers explain in a news release. "But since 2020, England has undergone a period of substantial societal instability, prompted primarily by the Covid-19 pandemic, which might have triggered changes in the reasons smokers give for wanting to ditch tobacco."

Also read: Smoking's impact on the immune system could last for up to 15 years after quitting: study

The effects of the pandemic

Published in the journal BMJ Public Health, the study findings support this hypothesis. Up until the beginning of 2020, half of all quit attempts were motivated by health concerns—whether current health problems (20%) or potential future problems (34%)—while 20% of quit attempts were motivated by social factors, and just as many by the cost of smoking. But the year 2020, marked by the advent of Covid-19, seems to have been a turning point in terms of determining factors for stopping smoking.

While the proportion of quit attempts linked to health concerns remained stable over the period studied, the proportion of those driven by cost rose considerably, from around 19% in March 2018 to almost 25.5% in May 2023. "Economic pressures [linked to the pandemic] probably contributed to the rise in cost-motivated attempts to quit around this time. But while the pandemic’s acute risks to health—and, as a result, attempts to quit motivated by concern for health or social factors—waned over time, its economic impacts have been compounded by a cost-of-living crisis," the study authors suggest.

Despite some of the study's limitations, not least the fact that it is based on self-reported data, the scientists conclude that: "These findings have implications for smoking cessation interventions and clinical practice. First, they indicate that cost is an increasingly important factor motivating people to try to stop smoking. Communicating the potential savings people can make by stopping smoking (even if they switch to alternative nicotine products) could therefore be an effective means for motivating attempts to quit."

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