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Estimating Price Elasticities When there is Smuggling: The Sensitivity of Smoking to Price in Canada

  • Jonathan Gruber
  • Anindya Sen
  • Mark Stabile

A central parameter for evaluating tax policies is the price elasticity of demand for cigarettes. But in many countries this parameter is difficult to estimate reliably due to widespread smuggling, which significantly biases estimates using legal sales data. An excellent example is Canada, where widespread smuggling in the early 1990s, in response to large tax increases, biases upwards the response of legal cigarette sales to price. We surmount this problem through two approaches: excluding the provinces and years where smuggling was greatest; and using household level expenditure data on smoking, where there is a downward bias to estimated elasticities from smuggling. These two approaches yield a tightly estimated elasticity in the range of -0.45 to -0.47. We also show that the sensitivity of smoking to price is much larger among lower income Canadians. In the context of recent behavioral models of smoking, whereby higher taxes reduce unwanted smoking among price sensitive populations, this finding suggests that cigarette taxes may not be as regressive as previously suggested. Finally, we show that price increases on cigarettes do not increase, and may actually decrease, consumption of alcohol; as a result, smuggling of cigarettes may have raised consumption of alcohol as well.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 8962.

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Date of creation: May 2002
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Publication status: published as Gruber, Jonathan & Sen, Anindya & Stabile, Mark, 2003. "Estimating price elasticities when there is smuggling: the sensitivity of smoking to price in Canada," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 22(5), pages 821-842, September.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:8962
Note: HE PE
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  1. Jonathan Gruber & Sendhil Mullainathan, 2002. "Do Cigarette Taxes Make Smokers Happier?," NBER Working Papers 8872, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  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. Thursby, Jerry G. & Thursby, Marie C., 2000. "Interstate Cigarette Bootlegging: Extent, Revenue Losses, and Effects of Federal Intervention," National Tax Journal, National Tax Association, vol. 53(n. 1), pages 59-78, March.
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  7. Dee, Thomas S., 1999. "The complementarity of teen smoking and drinking," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 18(6), pages 769-793, December.
  8. 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.
  9. Frank J. Chaloupka & Kenneth E. Warner, 1999. "The Economics of Smoking," NBER Working Papers 7047, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Laibson, David I., 1997. "Golden Eggs and Hyperbolic Discounting," Scholarly Articles 4481499, Harvard University Department of Economics.
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  12. 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.
  13. Frank S. Reinhardt & David E.A. Giles, 1999. "Are Cigarette Bans Really Good Economic Policy?," Econometrics Working Papers 9903, Department of Economics, University of Victoria.
  14. 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.
  15. 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.
  16. Jonathan Gruber & Botond Koszegi, 2000. "Is Addiction "Rational"? Theory and Evidence," NBER Working Papers 7507, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  17. Gary S. Becker & Michael Grossman & Kevin M. Murphy, 1990. "An Empirical Analysis of Cigarette Addiction," University of Chicago - George G. Stigler Center for Study of Economy and State 61, Chicago - Center for Study of Economy and State.
  18. Marie C. Thursby & Jerry G. Thursby, 1994. "Interstate Cigarette Bootlegging: Extent, Revenue Losses, and Effects of Government Intervention," NBER Working Papers 4763, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  19. Matthew C. Farrelly & Terry F. Pechacek & Frank J. Chaloupka, 2001. "The Impact of Tobacco Control Program Expenditures on Aggregate Cigarette Sales: 1981-1998," NBER Working Papers 8691, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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