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Vertical Equity Consequences of Very High Cigarette Tax Increases: If the Poor are the Ones Smoking, How Could Cigarette Tax Increases be Progressive?

  • Greg Colman
  • Dahlia K. Remler

Cigarette smoking is concentrated among low income groups. Consequently, cigarette taxes are considered regressive. However, if poorer individuals are much more price sensitive than richer individuals, then tax increases would reduce smoking much more among the poor and their cigarette tax expenditures as a share of income would rise by much less than for the rich. Warner (2000) said this phenomenon would make cigarette tax increases progressive. We test this empirically. Among low-, middle-, and high-income, we estimate total price elasticities of -0.37, -0.35, and -0.20, respectively. We find that cigarette tax increases are not close to progressive using both tax expenditure-based and traditional welfare measures. This finding is robust to cross-border purchasing, generic cigarettes, and substantial external effects. However, we find that taxes can be progressive under some behavioral economic models (Gruber & Koszegi, 2004) but that these may only apply to a small share of smokers.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 10906.

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Date of creation: Nov 2004
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Publication status: published as Gregory J. Colman & Dahlia K. Remler, 2008. "Vertical equity consequences of very high cigarette tax increases: If the poor are the ones smoking, how could cigarette tax increases be progressive?," Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 27(2), pages 376-400.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:10906
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