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The tobacco industry is playing price games to make it even more difficult to quit smoking

But quitting is notoriously difficult. Smoked tobacco is an addictive habit that the British Royal College of Physicians has resembled heroin and cocaine addiction.

But that does not mean there is nothing we can do. The evidence indicates that the increase in tobacco taxes is the most efficient way of reducing tobacco consumption. These taxes, recommended by the World Health Organization and the World Bank, increase the price of tobacco products in stores, which reduces their affordable prices – a situation that encourages smokers to stop and prevent others from starting in the first place.

Taxation is particularly important because lower income riders are less likely to respond to many other campaigns against tobacco advertising and regulations aimed at encouraging quitting. But such smokers, including many young people, are most sensitive to price increases.

If abuse alone is not enough, an additional challenge is to kick the habit that tobacco companies simply do not want smokers to quit. They do not want to lose their customers and the big profits they give.

It is therefore unbelievable that the tobacco industry has a well-documented history of undermining provisions aimed at controlling the use and sale of tobacco products for the benefit of public health. For example, the largest tobacco companies have continued to market cigarettes to children all over the world even though it is not claimed that they do not, and often in places where advertising is prohibited. In Britain, where tobacco advertising is prohibited, Philip Morris International has effectively circumvented the ban on the recently launched "smoking quit" campaign, which is still still promoting its tobacco products.

Paying a Heavy Price

While many of these tactics are obvious, some are more difficult to detect. Our latest research reveals another ̵

1; how the tobacco industry's pricing tactics in Britain reduce the intended public health impact of tobacco tax increases.

Tobacco companies offer a range of cheaper products to help people smoke (and attract new consumers to start) while offering a series of higher pricing brands to truly earn money for those who can not or do not want to quit.

When tobacco taxes are increased, they play with their pricing to undermine the effects of tax increases in smoking. They absorb tax increases, especially on the cheapest brands, which delays and stagnates the intended tobacco price increases. In this way, price increases are gradually applied to the brand portfolio to ensure that smokers never face a sudden interrupting price jump when the government increases the tax.

Additional tactics adopted by industry include shrink inflation – lowers the number of cigarettes in a package to hide price increases and prevent the cost of a tobacco package from being tipped over certain psychological levels.

Decreasing the number of cigarettes in a package from 20 to 19, 18 or through 17 while keeping the price stable means that the higher cost per cigarette is not immediately apparent to most smokers – and the producer can make bigger profits.

The industry also used price-tagged packaging to limit dealers' opportunities to increase their small sales of tobacco sales as another way of keeping tobacco cheap. Sales of ten cigarette packages increased and very small packages of loose tobacco (10 g or less) were introduced. These small packages appeal to the most price-sensitive smokers because they cost less to buy.

Such tactics and small packages have recently been banned in the United Kingdom with the introduction of standardized packaging (where tobacco must be sold in standard format with killing packages) but is still available elsewhere. The United Kingdom has also introduced a new minimum tax tax that sets the average price of over 10 pounds for a 20 cigarette package) stopping sales of extremely cheap tobacco products.

In the end, the tobacco industry would not manipulate prices if it was not so effective to ensure that young people continue to smoke and to prevent existing smokers from quitting. So what more can we do?

Stubbing it out

Additional restrictive industry use of pricing tactics would be a good option. Companies can be limited in the number of brands and brand variations they sell to lower the supply of prices and in number of times they can change prices to eliminate their ability to lower prices and directly undermine public health benefits of tax increases.

There is also a case for direct regulation of tobacco prices in the same way as the prices for public services, such as water and electricity, often determined by independent authorities. Public services are important services, why the government appears to protect the public from the choice of corporate prices – but then the tobacco is a very addictive and lethal product where the price is also important.

At the same time, Bloomberg Philanthropies recently announced an investment of $ 20 million to create Stop Tobacco Organizations and Products (STOP) – a global tobacco industry watchdog to help reveal more of these methods. The Tobacco Control Research Group at the University of Bath is one of three partners funded to lead this initiative.

The public can not afford to let industry work under the radar when the product they make kills two out of three long-term users. This new partnership will serve as a necessary watchdog to reveal its deadly tactics.

Explore further:
Canadian smokers support bold new approaches for end-use tobacco

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