"A 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes would reduce the probability of
using marijuana by between 3.4 and 7.3 percent and would decrease the average
level of use by regular users by between 3.6 and 8.4 percent."
One of the most fiercely debated issues in the controversy over restricting
youth access to tobacco products is whether such deterrence will steer them
towards use of illicit drugs, including marijuana. Opponents of cigarette price
increases have repeatedly made the argument that such increases would lead youth
to substitute marijuana for tobacco. In contrast, substance abuse experts have long
suspected cigarettes are a "gateway drug," encouraging the young smoker to
experiment with beer, marijuana, and other illegal substances.
In Do Higher Cigarette Prices Encourage Youth To Use Marijuana? (NBER Working Paper No. 6939)
-- the first national study of the economic effects of
pricing on alcohol, tobacco, and drug use on youth -- authors Frank Chaloupka,
Rosalie Pacula, Matthew Farrelly, Lloyd Johnston, Patrick O'Malley, and Jeremy
Bray find that higher cigarette prices will not increase marijuana use. In fact, the
authors' data suggests that higher cigarette prices will both reduce youth smoking
and lower the frequency of marijuana use among youthful users. Higher prices also
would likely lower the probability of young people using marijuana at all. The authors
find that a 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes would reduce the probability
of using marijuana by between 3.4 and 7.3 percent and would decrease the average
level of use by regular users by between 3.6 and 8.4 percent.
The authors' data come from the 1992 through 1994 Monitoring the Future
Surveys of the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan. These
annual surveys measure perceptions of, attitudes towards, and use of alcohol,
tobacco, and other drugs among youth in grades 8, 10, and 12.
These findings are consistent with other studies that conclude that substance
use among young people commonly progresses from tobacco to other substances.
This implies that policies that reduce youth smoking might also reduce youth
alcohol, marijuana and other illicit drug use. Similarly, this study is consistent with
findings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) that suggest
some youthful marijuana users also use tobacco to enhance their marijuana high,
once again implying that there are links between the two which might be severed
for these youth if the cost of tobacco products was increased significantly. This
study also reinforces CDCP findings in which young people state they would not
substitute marijuana use if cigarette prices should rise dramatically.
-- Lester A. Picker