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Smoking initiation and the iron law of demand


  • Lillard, Dean R.
  • Molloy, Eamon
  • Sfekas, Andrew


We show, with three longitudinal datasets, that cigarette taxes and prices affect smoking initiation decisions. Evidence from longitudinal studies is mixed but generally find that initiation does not vary with price or tax. We show that the lack of statistical significance partly results because of limited policy variation in the time periods studied, truncated behavioral windows, or mis-assignment of price and tax rates in retrospective data (which occurs when one has no information about respondents’ prior state or region of residence). Our findings highlight issues relevant to initiation behavior generally, particularly those for which individuals’ responses to policy changes may be noisy or small in magnitude.

Suggested Citation

  • Lillard, Dean R. & Molloy, Eamon & Sfekas, Andrew, 2013. "Smoking initiation and the iron law of demand," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 32(1), pages 114-127.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:jhecon:v:32:y:2013:i:1:p:114-127
    DOI: 10.1016/j.jhealeco.2012.08.006

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Joseph J. Sabia, 2006. "Does sex education affect adolescent sexual behaviors and health?," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 25(4), pages 783-802.
    2. Carpenter, Christopher & Cook, Philip J., 2008. "Cigarette taxes and youth smoking: New evidence from national, state, and local Youth Risk Behavior Surveys," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 27(2), pages 287-299, March.
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    4. Cawley, John & Markowitz, Sara & Tauras, John, 2004. "Lighting up and slimming down: the effects of body weight and cigarette prices on adolescent smoking initiation," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 23(2), pages 293-311, March.
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    7. DeCicca, Philip & Kenkel, Don & Mathios, Alan, 2008. "Cigarette taxes and the transition from youth to adult smoking: Smoking initiation, cessation, and participation," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 27(4), pages 904-917, July.
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    12. Dean R. Lillard & Andrew Sfekas, 2013. "Just passing through: the effect of the Master Settlement Agreement on estimated cigarette tax price pass-through," Applied Economics Letters, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 20(4), pages 353-357, March.
    13. Feng Liu, 2010. "Cutting through the smoke: separating the effect of price on smoking initiation, relapse and cessation," Applied Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 42(23), pages 2921-2939.
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    Cited by:

    1. Friedman, Abigail S., 2015. "How does electronic cigarette access affect adolescent smoking?," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 44(C), pages 300-308.
    2. Ziebarth, Nicolas R. & Wagner, Gert G., 2013. "Top?Down vs. Bottom?Up: The Long?Term Impact of Government Ideology and Personal Experience on Values," IZA Discussion Papers 7279, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    3. Jan (J.C.) van Ours & Ali Palali, 2017. "The Impact of Tobacco Control Policies on Smoking Initiation in Europe," Tinbergen Institute Discussion Papers 17-074/V, Tinbergen Institute.
    4. Benjamin Hansen & Daniel I. Rees & Joseph J. Sabia, 2013. "Cigarette Taxes and How Youths Obtain Cigarettes," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 66(2), pages 371-394, June.
    5. Christopoulou, Rebekka & Lillard, Dean R., 2015. "Is smoking behavior culturally determined? Evidence from British immigrants," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 110(C), pages 78-90.
    6. Deliana Kostova & Frank Chaloupka & Ce Shang, 2015. "A duration analysis of the role of cigarette prices on smoking initiation and cessation in developing countries," The European Journal of Health Economics, Springer;Deutsche Gesellschaft für Gesundheitsökonomie (DGGÖ), vol. 16(3), pages 279-288, April.

    More about this item


    Smoking initiation; Cigarette price elasticity; Cigarette tax elasticity; Chronological behavioral windows; Measurement error;

    JEL classification:

    • I1 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health
    • I18 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Government Policy; Regulation; Public Health
    • D12 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - Consumer Economics: Empirical Analysis


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