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