The substitutability of cigarettes and food
Murphy, Cara Marie
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More preventable deaths are attributed to obesity and cigarettes smoking in the United States than any other causes. Smoking and eating behaviors appear to influence each other in various ways. Behavioral economics can help understand the consumption of commodities. The price of one commodity can affect the consumption of another including functioning as substitutes when consumption of one item increases as the price of another increases. Despite speculation that smokers may substitute food and cigarettes, no study has directly examined this. The current study evaluated the effects of rising food prices on cigarette consumption and the effects of rising cigarette prices on food consumption. The extent to which these relationships were symmetrical and were associated with Body Mass Index (BMI) and other variables related to smoking and eating behaviors was also examined. Cigarette smokers (N = 86) completed a two-part hypothetical task in which they could allocate money to purchase cigarettes and fast food-style reinforcers (e.g., burgers, sandwiches, soft drinks, ice cream) as the prices of the commodities varied. Cross-price elasticity coefficients indicated that neither food nor cigarettes were substitutes for one another. Food purchases were independent of cigarette price, whereas cigarette purchases decreased as food price rose. Individuals’ confidence in their ability to effectively control their weight, appetite, and eating without smoking was significantly associated with cross-price elasticities, but BMI and other facets of eating and smoking behavior were not. For cigarette smokers, greater taxation of food items like those used in the substitutability task may have the potential to reduce consumption of these foods as well as cigarettes, given the decrease in purchases of both observed as a function of food price. Heavy taxation of cigarettes, on the contrary, would be expected to have minimal impact on purchasing of high-calorie convenience foods. Perceived ability to manage one’s weight and eating without cigarettes may influence who uses food as a substitute for cigarettes after smoking cessation.