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Do Cigarette Taxes Work? See What Helps Smokers Quit.

Do Cigarette Taxes Work? See What Helps Smokers Quit.

Do cigarette taxes work with smoke-free laws to help people quit tobacco?

If you operate in a state with strong smoke-free laws and high tobacco taxes, you might think there’s nothing else you can do to help employees quit.

However, the truth isn’t as clear-cut as that.

A 2021 study found that certain subgroups of tobacco users are not impacted in the same ways by laws and taxes. For example, established smokers may smoke more after a tax increase, partly because they start buying in bulk to reduce costs. The study also found that comprehensive smoke-free laws reduce smoking across most types of smokers, except among occasional smokers.

These findings support decades of data showing that smoke-free laws and cigarette taxes play an important role in curbing tobacco use. But they also showcase the ways in which policy and taxes alone are not enough.

What helps smokers quit

In conversations with clients about best practices, we focus on 3 key areas: building on internal motivation, increasing external motivation, and nurturing confidence.

Building on internal motivation

Motivation is a tricky thing. To break free from nicotine addiction, someone must want to quit, but motivation can change from moment to moment. For example, just before they light up a cigarette, motivation can be at its lowest point, but it may surge when they catch a cold or have an asthma attack.

That’s why it’s important to capitalize on those moments when they happen.

Tobacco users who want to quit generally have a good idea about why they want to stop. Here are examples of what tobacco users say in our EX Community about 4 different categories of internal motivators to quit:

Nicotine addiction has left me feeling weak in my own body. And that's not how I want to feel in my early 20s.

My biggest reasons for quitting are shame and self-respect. I want to stop hiding in the bathroom to vape. I'm always stepping away from life to do something unhealthy.

I'm missing out on my children's life experiences to go smoke.

I hate having this vice totally control me.

Understanding intrinsic motivation is key, and that’s why our EX Coaches ask participants for their reasons for quitting when they chat. Once EX Coaches have that information, they keep members connected to those reasons and celebrate wins along the way—both big and small.

Increasing external motivation

While nearly 70% of smokers want to quit, they oftentimes don’t want to quit TODAY.

So how can you help them get over that hurdle? One answer is to increase extrinsic, or external, motivation. Think of these as the carrots and sticks you can use to tip the scales in favor of acting today.

Incentives and tobacco surcharges can increase both uptake and engagement with treatment. Use of evidence-based treatment and a higher dose of that treatment in turn can improve quitting outcomes.

See more on tobacco surcharges in What is a Tobacco Surcharge and How Does My Company Offer One?

In our own work, we’ve found clients that offer some type of incentive enroll 3.5 times more of their eligible employees than clients that do not offer an incentive.

However, it’s important to note that incentives can feel heavy-handed and generate feelings of resentment among members who don’t feel confident or ready to quit.

That’s why we work with clients to design and implement tobacco surcharges/incentives that emphasize the EX Program’s commitment to meeting tobacco users where they are. We invite people to explore making changes to their tobacco use rather than an exclusive focus on quitting. Importantly, we provide the resources and tools they’re looking for. This kind of consultative support can be key to using incentives successfully and getting the results you want.

Nurturing confidence

Regardless of how users start their quitting journey, it’s much easier to do well if they’re confident in their ability to succeed.

It can often take many tries before someone quits for good. On average, many smokers make 6 or more attempts before quitting. That can be demoralizing and leave someone feeling helpless unless past quits are reframed in a positive way as “practice quits” instead of failures.

For example, EX Coaches help people build skills through tactics like “mini quits.” This involves quitting one cigarette at a time to see what it feels like. That gives users more understanding about what it takes to conquer cravings, and success doing so, without the pressure of quitting for good all at once.

When people have that type of mindset and the tools they need, they can build more confidence. Both are crucial for success.

We know what works to help smokers quit

At the EX Program, we are experts at combining evidence-based approaches with creative execution to maximize engagement in quitting.

Learn more about the EX Program on our Program page.

Or to see how we can move more of your population into a quitting journey, please contact us today.


Jessie Saul, Ph.D.
Jessie Saul, Ph.D.

Director, Strategic Insights

Dr. Jessie Saul brings 19 years of experience in research, program evaluation, and strategic implementation around tobacco cessation. She applies this deep understanding to improve EX Program performance and reduce tobacco use among populations. She earned her Ph.D. in Science and Technology Studies from Cornell University.

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