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Do Cigarette Taxes Make Smokers Happier?

  • Jonathan Gruber
  • Sendhil Mullainathan

To measure how policy changes affect social welfare, economists typically look at how policies affect behavior, and use a formal model to infer welfare consequences from the behavioral responses. But when different models can map the same behavior to very different welfare impacts, it becomes hard to draw firm conclusions about many policies. An excellent example of this conundrum is the taxation of addictive substances such as cigarettes. Existing empirical evidence on smoking is equally consistent with two models that have radically different welfare implications. Under the rational addiction model, cigarette taxes make time consistent smokers worse off. But, under alternative time inconsistent models, smokers are made better off by taxes, as they provide a valuable self-control device. We therefore propose an alternative approach to assessing the welfare implications of policy interventions: examining directly the impact on subjective well-being. We do so by matching information on cigarette excise taxation to separate surveys from the U.S. and Canada that contain data on self-reported happiness. And we model the differential impact of excise taxes on those predicted to be likely to be smokers, relative to others, in order to control for omitted correlations between happiness and excise taxation. We find consistent evidence in both countries that excise taxes make predicted smokers happier. This evidence suggests that the time inconsistent model of smoking is more appropriate, and that as a result welfare is improved by higher cigarette taxes.

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File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w8872.pdf
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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 8872.

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Date of creation: Apr 2002
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Publication status: published as Gruber, Jonathan H. and Sendhil Mullainathan. "Do Cigarette Taxes Make Smokers Happier," Advances in Economic Analysis and Policy, 2005, v5(1), Article 4.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:8872
Note: CH HC PE
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  1. Chaloupka, Frank J. & Warner, Kenneth E., 2000. "The economics of smoking," Handbook of Health Economics, in: A. J. Culyer & J. P. Newhouse (ed.), Handbook of Health Economics, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 29, pages 1539-1627 Elsevier.
  2. O'Donoghue, Ted & Rabin, Matthew, 1997. "Doing It Now or Later," Department of Economics, Working Paper Series qt7t44m5b0, Department of Economics, Institute for Business and Economic Research, UC Berkeley.
  3. Easterlin, Richard A., 1995. "Will raising the incomes of all increase the happiness of all?," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 27(1), pages 35-47, June.
  4. David G. Blanchflower & Andrew J. Oswald, 1997. "The Rising Well-Being of the Young," NBER Working Papers 6102, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  5. 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.
  6. DiTella, Rafael & MacCulloch, Robert & Oswald, Andrew J., 2001. "Preferences over inflation and unemployment: Evidence from surveys of happiness," ZEI Working Papers B 03-2001, ZEI - Center for European Integration Studies, University of Bonn.
  7. Jonathan Gruber & Botond Koszegi, 2002. "A Theory of Government Regulation of Addictive Bads: Optimal Tax Levels and Tax Incidence for Cigarette Excise Taxation," NBER Working Papers 8777, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  8. Gary S. Becker & Kevin M. Murphy, 1986. "A Theory of Rational Addiction," University of Chicago - George G. Stigler Center for Study of Economy and State 41, Chicago - Center for Study of Economy and State.
  9. Jonathan Gruber & Botond Köszegi, 2001. "Is Addiction "Rational"? Theory And Evidence," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 116(4), pages 1261-1303, November.
  10. Clark, Andrew E & Oswald, Andrew J, 1994. "Unhappiness and Unemployment," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 104(424), pages 648-59, May.
  11. Jonathan Gruber & Botond Koszegi, 2000. "Is Addiction "Rational"? Theory and Evidence," NBER Working Papers 7507, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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