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A Theory of Government Regulation of Addictive Bads: Optimal Tax Levels and Tax Incidence for Cigarette Excise Taxation

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  • Jonathan Gruber
  • Botond Koszegi

Abstract

The traditional normative analysis of government policy towards addictive bads is carried out in the context of a 'rational addiction' model, whereby the only role for government is in correcting the external costs of consumption of such goods. But available evidence is at least as consistent, if not more so, with an alternative where individuals are 'time inconsistent' about decisions such as smoking, having a higher discount rate between this period and the next than between future periods. We develop this time inconsistent model, and show that this alternative formulation delivers radically different implications for government policy towards smoking. Unlike the traditional model, our alternative implies that there is a role for government taxation of addictive bads even if there are no external costs; we estimate that the optimal tax on cigarettes is $1 or more higher than that implied by the traditional model. And we estimate that cigarette excise taxes are much less regressive than previously believed, and indeed for most parameter values are progressive, since lower income groups are much more price elastic and therefore benefit more from the commitment device provided by higher excise taxes.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 8777.

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Date of creation: Feb 2002
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Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:8777

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References

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  1. Poterba, J.M., 1989. "Lifetime Incidence And The Distributional Burden Of Excise Taxes," Working papers 510, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics.
  2. William N. Evans & Jeanne S. Ringel & Diana Stech, 1999. "Tobacco Taxes and Public Policy to Discourage Smoking," NBER Chapters, in: Tax Policy and the Economy, volume 13, pages 1-56 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Viscusi, W Kip & Evans, William N, 1990. "Utility Functions That Depend on Health Status: Estimates and Economic Implications," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 80(3), pages 353-74, June.
  4. Gruber Jonathan H & Mullainathan Sendhil, 2005. "Do Cigarette Taxes Make Smokers Happier," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 5(1), pages 1-45, July.
  5. Thaler, Richard, 1981. "Some empirical evidence on dynamic inconsistency," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 8(3), pages 201-207.
  6. W. Kip Viscusi & Joni Hersch, 2001. "Cigarette Smokers As Job Risk Takers," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 83(2), pages 269-280, May.
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Cited by:
  1. Jonathan Gruber & Anindya Sen & Mark Stabile, 2002. "Estimating Price Elasticities When there is Smuggling: The Sensitivity of Smoking to Price in Canada," NBER Working Papers 8962, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Gruber Jonathan H & Mullainathan Sendhil, 2005. "Do Cigarette Taxes Make Smokers Happier," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 5(1), pages 1-45, July.
  3. Ted O'Donoghue & Matthew Rabin, 2003. "Studying Optimal Paternalism, Illustrated by a Model of Sin Taxes," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 93(2), pages 186-191, May.
  4. Charles Ballard & John Goddeeris & Sang-Kyum Kim, 2005. "Non-Homothetic Preferences and the Non-Environmental Effects of Environmental Taxes," International Tax and Public Finance, Springer, vol. 12(2), pages 115-130, March.
  5. Gruber, Jonathan & Koszegi, Botond, 2004. "Tax incidence when individuals are time-inconsistent: the case of cigarette excise taxes," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 88(9-10), pages 1959-1987, August.
  6. Jens Ludwig & Deborah A. Phillips, 2007. "The Benefits and Costs of Head Start," NBER Working Papers 12973, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Löfgren, Åsa, 2003. "The Effect of Addiction on Environmental Taxation in a First and Second-best world," Working Papers in Economics 91, University of Gothenburg, Department of Economics.
  8. Aronsson, Thomas & Thunström, Linda, 2005. "Optimal Paternalism: Sin Taxes and Health Subsidies," UmeÃ¥ Economic Studies 662, Umeå University, Department of Economics.
  9. Donald S. Kenkel & Robert R. Reed III & Ping Wang, 2002. "Rational Addiction, Peer Externalities and Long Run Effects of Public Policy," NBER Working Papers 9249, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Nuria Badenes-Plá & Andrew M. Jones, 2003. "Addictive goods and taxes: A survey from an economic perspective," Hacienda Pública Española, IEF, vol. 167(4), pages 123-153, December.

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