Working Paper 154

Recent years have seen the development of a substantial literature on tobacco taxation that has both noted its effectiveness as a tobacco control tool, and provided modelling of its implications. However, studies of tobacco taxation and tobacco consumption have largely ignored a crucial aspect of the market for cigarettes in many low- and middle-income countries – the prevalence of loose (single) cigarettes being sold, rather than cigarette packs. We argue that ignoring this market leaves room for unexpected dynamics and unintended policy effects. We develop this argument by establishing four aspects of the market for loose cigarettes. First, we show that it is sizeable and widespread. Second, we note that it has a consumer base that is on average poorer and younger than the overall population of smokers. Third, we show that the price dynamics for loose cigarettes are different to those for packs, that the price for a loose cigarette is typically higher than the equivalent per-cigarette price of a cigarette bought in a pack, and that the price of loose cigarettes and cigarette packs do not always move in parallel. Fourth, based on these dynamics, we show how the features of the loose cigarette market can affect the effectiveness of tobacco control policy, and in particular tobacco taxation. For example, we highlight that insufficient attention to the market for loose cigarettes might lead to a lower than anticipated effect of tax increases on demand, or might result in tax increases not being passed on to the consumers of loose cigarettes at all. Consequently, in order to ensure that tobacco tax increases immediately feed through to all consumers, policymakers in countries with markets for loose cigarettes should prioritise large rather than incremental tax increases.

Authors

Max Gallien

Max is a Research Fellow at the ICTD. His research specialises in the politics of informal and illegal economies, the political economy of the Middle East and North Africa and development politics. He completed his PhD at the London School of Economics. Max co-leads the informality and taxation programme with Vanessa, as well as the ICTD’s capacity building programme.

Giovanni Occhiali

Dr Giovanni Occhiali is a Development Economist based at the Institute of Development Studies, where he works on a number of projects related to Tax Administration and Compliance, Tax and Governance and co-leads ICTD’s capacity building programme together with Dr Max Gallien. His research focuses on Sub-Saharan Africa, and outside of the field of taxation his main interests are energy economics and industrial policies. He holds a PhD from the University of Birmingham and prior to joining ICTD, he was a Researcher at the Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei and an Overseas Development Institute Fellow at the National Revenue Authority of Sierra Leone.

Hana Ross

Hana is the Principle Research Officer for the Economics of Tobacco Control project at the University of Cape Town. She received her Ph.D. in Economics from the University of Illinois at Chicago. She has over seventeen years' experience in conducting research on the economics of tobacco control and in management of research projects in low- and middle-income countries. Her current research projects focus on the economic impact of tobacco control interventions in Africa, South East Asia, and in the European Union. She is also interested in the economic impact of risk factors associated with non-communicable diseases such as obesity, lack of physical activity, and alcohol consumption.
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