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Raising Cigarette Taxes Could Cause Smokers To Drink Less

cigarette ashtray
By raising cigarette taxes, people might be more inclined to stop drinking alcohol as much too. Creative Commons

It’s a common sight at bars: A group of patrons go on a smoke break, and because they’ve been drinking, that one person who doesn’t normally smoke also takes a drag from the cigarette, or has their own altogether. Drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes has long been a pair. But although this connection is a dangerous one, there may be some benefit to it. According to a new study, raising taxes on cigarettes — which encourages people to stop smoking — has been linked to a reduction in the amount of drinks a smoker consumes.

“Cigarette taxes have broad population reach, and have been recognized as one of the most significant policy instruments to reduce smoking,” study author Sherry McKee, associate professor of psychiatry at Yale University School of Medicine, said in a press release. “Increases in cigarette taxes predict decreases in smoking initiation, increases in quitting, and reductions in cigarette-related (illness and death).”

The Link Between Cigarettes Taxes And Alcohol Consumption

McKee and her team of researchers interviewed 21,473 alcohol drinkers who had been part of the National Epidemiological Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions.  They were interviewed between 2001 and 2002, and then between 2004 and 2005, in order to properly gauge the effects of tax hikes on alcohol consumption. During this time, cigarette taxes rose between seven cents and $1.60, with the average rate increasing by 61 cents, according to CBS.

Participants were asked to grade their drinking habits over the course of the past year on a scale that ranged from “every day” to “never in the last year,” while also recording how many drinks they had each time. Men who drank more than 14 drinks, women who had more than seven drinks, and anyone who binged at least once — about five or more drinks within two hours — were considered to be “hazardous” drinkers.

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They found that tax increases affected only men. Those who were affected binged seven fewer times a year, and drank 11 percent less than they typically would each time they drank.  

"We were surprised at the strength of the associations between increases in cigarette taxes and reductions in alcohol consumption," McKee told MedPage Today.

Read More: Anti-Smoking Drug Chantix Also Helps Treat Alcoholics

Why didn’t tax hikes affect women? There are more male drinkers in the population than female drinkers, McKee said. Of the eight percent that meet the criteria for alcohol use disorder, five percent are men and three percent are women.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 19 percent of American adults smoke cigarettes. It’s the cause of more than 440,000 deaths, or one of every five deaths, each year in the U.S.

Smoking and Drinking's Long-Held Bond

"Smoking and drinking are strongly linked for a host of reasons including complementary pharmacologic effects, shared neuronal pathways, shared genetic associations, common environmental factors, and learned associations," Christopher W. Kahler, professor and chair of the department of behavioral and social sciences at Brown School of Public Health, said in a press release.

Because of these shared effects on the brain, Gregory N. Connolly, faculty director for the Center for Global Tobacco Control at Harvard School of Public Health, says that “the researchers may have found something big.”

Read More: Why Does Smoking Cigarettes Make You Want To Drink Alcohol?

“We do know that the opposite is true. Alcohol and the social acceptance of smoking in the bar induces relapse,” he told MedPage Today. “The bar or pub has become the nicotine classroom for the young.”  

Source: McKee S, Hyland A, Kasza K, et al. Increased Cigarette Tax is Associated with Reductions in Alcohol Consumption in a Longitudinal U.S. Sample. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. 2013. 

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