Price minimizing behaviours by smokers in Europe (2006-20): evidence from the International Tobacco Control Project

Citation

Geboers, C., Nagelhout, G.E., de Vries, H., Candel, M.J.J.M., Driezen, P., Mons, U., Andler, R., Fong, G.T., Willemsen, M.C. (2022). Price minimizing behaviours by smokers in Europe (2006-2020): Evidence from the International Tobacco Control Project. European Journal of Public Health, [Published online, doi:10.1093/eurpub/ckac115].

Abstract

Background: Effectiveness of tobacco taxation can be undermined through smokers applying price-minimizing behaviours rather than quitting or reducing consumption. Common price-minimizing strategies are buying cheaper tobacco [discount brands or roll-your-own (RYO) tobacco], bulk buying and cross-border purchasing. This study analyses trends in and factors associated with such behaviours in four European countries from 2006 to 2020.

Methods: Data came from adult smokers participating in the International Tobacco Control (ITC) Surveys conducted between 2006 and 2020 in England (9 waves, n = 768-4149), France (4 waves, n = 1415-1735), Germany (5 waves, n = 513-1515) and the Netherlands (10 waves, n = 1191-2177). Country-specific generalized estimating equation regression models were fit to assess trends in smoking RYO tobacco, discount brands, bulk buying and cross-border purchasing within the European Union.

Results: Buying discount brands or RYO tobacco was the most common strategy in all countries, except France. Except for buying discount brands, estimates of price-minimizing behaviours were highest in France (2019: RYO = 27.2%, discount brands = 17.3%, bulk buying = 34.1%, cross-border purchasing = 34.2%), and lowest in Germany (2018: RYO = 18.6%, discount brands = 43.7%, bulk buying = 8.0%, cross-border purchasing = 9.8%). Direction and magnitude of trends differed by country, and behaviour. Young smokers were less likely to buy in bulk. Low-income and low-education smokers were more likely to purchase RYO tobacco or discount brands. The association with discount brands was not found for French low-income smokers.

Conclusions: Smoking cheaper tobacco is the most prevalent price-minimizing strategy in three countries (England, Germany and Netherlands), and more prevalent among low-income individuals. Harmonizing prices across products and countries would reduce switching to cheaper tobacco.