Abstinence and price effects on demand for cigarettes: a behavioral-economic analysis


  • Gregory J. Madden,

  • Warren K. Bickel


Aims. To examine the separate and combined effects of cigarette pricing and cigarette abstinence on smoking. Design. Within-subject design in which participants experienced all levels of price and abstinence conditions. Setting. Laboratory conditions. Participants. Nine human cigarette smokers. Intervention. Cigarette prices were manipulated across a 60-fold range (US$0.02-$1.20) in separate abstinent (5+ hours of non-smoking) and non-abstinent conditions. Participants earned money by pulling a response plunger (US$0.10 per 100 pulls) and could either keep the money or spend it on cigarette puffs. Measurements. Total response output, cigarette consumption, price elasticity of demand and spending patterns. Findings. Participants spent their earnings on cigarette puffs more quickly when abstinent than when they had smoked ad libitum before the session, and latency to spend money on puffs was a linear increasing function of price. Effects of abstinence on rates of smoking were a function of the price at which cigarette puffs could be purchased. At low prices participants smoked more puffs per session when abstinent, but this difference was negligible at high puff prices. Abstinence and non-abstinence effects were temporary, and tended to wane in the second 90 minutes of the sessions. During the first half of the sessions, demand for cigarettes was more inelastic during the abstinent condition than the non-abstinent condition, indicating relative insensitivity to price increases when abstinent. Conclusions. Behavioral-economic procedures and measures are sensitive to cigarette-abstinence manipulations and the laboratory methods employed here may prove beneficial in evaluating the probable effects of public-policy initiatives designed to reduce cigarette use.