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Previous studies have already clearly indicated a link between the availability of cheaper cigarette brands and elevated smoking rates. However this is the first study that links such lower prices to infant mortality rates, in fact the researchers from Imperial College London are urging lawmakers to eliminate cheaper cigarette brands from the market.

The study which was partly funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), and published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, analysed nearly 54 million births across 23 EU countries between 2004 to 2014, and compared the obtained results with cigarette prices from the same period.

Minimizing infant deaths

“Thanks to tax and price control measures, cigarettes in EU countries are more expensive than ever before. However, the tobacco industry is good at finding loopholes to ensure that budget cigarettes stay available,” said lead author of the study, Dr Filippos Filippidis from Imperial’s School of Public Health.

“In this study, we found that the availability of budget cigarettes is associated with more infant deaths,” he added. In the ten years time frame and countries that the researchers looked at, infant mortality rates declined from an average of 4.4 deaths per 1000 births in 2004 to 3.5 deaths per 1000 births in 2014. In the same time period prices of average priced cigarettes increased.

“Thanks to tax and price control measures, cigarettes in EU countries are more expensive than ever before. However, the tobacco industry is good at finding loopholes to ensure that budget cigarettes stay available. In this study, we found that the availability of budget cigarettes is associated with more infant deaths.”Dr Filippos Filippidis, Imperial’s School of Public Health.

Every euro increase per pack was associated with 0.23 fewer deaths per 1,000 live births in the same year, and an additional 0.16 fewer deaths per 1,000 live births in the following year. On the other hand a 10% increase in price difference between budget and average priced cigarettes was associated with 0.07 more deaths per 1,000 live births the following year. Hence the researchers calculated that an approximately 3,195 infant deaths could have been potentially avoided had there been no cheaper cigarette brands over the period of study.

Co-author of the study, Professor Christopher Millett, thinks that tax should be used to eliminate the price gaps. “Increasing taxation on tobacco is a highly effective strategy to protect child health. Our findings suggest that tobacco tax policy should be designed to not only increase the average price of cigarettes but also to eliminate the price difference between higher and lower priced cigarettes.”

Closing the cigarette price gap

In line with this, a study carried out by researchers from King’s College London, the University of Bath and the UK Centre for Tobacco & Alcohol Studies in Nottingham, and published in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research earlier this year, pointed out that smokers on a budget have several options to choose from, including cheaper cigarette brands and roll-your-own tobacco.

“Increasing taxation on tobacco is a highly effective strategy to protect child health. Our findings suggest that tobacco tax policy should be designed to not only increase the average price of cigarettes but also to eliminate the price difference between higher and lower priced cigarettes.”Professor Christopher Millett, Imperial’s School of Public Health

Researchers across the board believe that prices of all combustible tobacco products should be equally high, in order to deter smokers from simply turning to cheaper brands rather than quitting. Data has shown that smoking rates are higher amongst the most economically challenged communities, and naturally, these are more likely to turn to cheaper brands.

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