Researchers find that taste restrictions affect tobacco buyers differently depending on socioeconomic status

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The study published in Nicotine and Tobacco Research was the first to use data from the Experimental Tobacco Marketplace to examine how policies that restrict nicotine and tobacco product flavors affect health equity. Credit: Virginia Tech

Limiting the menthol flavor in cigarettes while making nicotine replacement therapy more available and affordable, such as a skin patch that can aid withdrawal, has the potential to reduce socioeconomic disparities in tobacco use.

That was one of the findings from a study published in May Nicotine and tobacco research that marks a new use of existing data from the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute of VTC’s Addiction Recovery Research Center. Researchers analyzed data from their Experimental Tobacco Marketplace to look beyond the broad effects of tax and regulatory policies for the journal’s special issue on the health effects of restricting flavored nicotine.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable deaths in the US. Smoking also accounts for more than 30 percent of the difference in life expectancy between socio-economic groups, according to the study’s lead author, Assistant Professor Roberta Freitas-Lemos.

The tobacco industry has marketed flavored tobacco products, such as menthol cigarettes, more heavily in communities with lower household incomes and education levels.

Freitas-Lemos said the team saw an opportunity to use the market to expand the work of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute in addressing equity and inclusion in health research.

“We realized we could use an existing data set, split the sample in half based on socio-economic status, and compare how implemented policies affected the purchasing behavior of different groups,” she said. “The research showed us that taste restrictions can reduce tobacco-related morbidity and mortality.”

It also points to the need to assess tobacco restrictions in a broader context, as cigarette substitution is highly dependent on what other products are available.

In the Experimental Tobacco Marketplace, study participants use an online account to purchase tobacco and nicotine products based on their reported use. Researchers adjust product mix and prices to predict their effects on purchasing behavior. The market applies the economic concept of the substitution effect, where reduced sales of a product can be attributed to buyers switching to alternatives as prices rise.

“We created a methodology, provided it with an Amazon-like interface, and we gave study participants an amount to spend based on their reported use,” said Warren Bickel, professor at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute and director of the Addiction Recovery Research Center. “We are gradually understanding how new policies can change consumer behavior.”

What is crucial, he said, is understanding the trade-offs between policies. “We have shown that there is a policy that reduces inequality, but if you simultaneously implement a second, different policy, that effect is canceled out,” Bickel said. “We think this is an exciting outcome. If we can actually start addressing and predicting the impact of policies on health disparities, it will be a game-changer.”






Bickel is also director of the institute’s Center for Health Behaviors Research and a professor of psychology in Virginia Tech’s College of Science. Freitas-Lemos is also an assistant professor in the College of Science and part of the Center for Health Behaviors Research and Cancer Research Center at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute.

In addition to Freitas-Lemos and Bickel, the authors of the study from the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute include Research Assistant Professor Allison Tegge and Assistant Professor Jeffrey Stein.

The research is supported by the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health. “This elegant work by Dr. Freitas-Lemos, Dr. Bickel and their colleagues spans behavioral neuroscience and tax policy. It represents an emerging area of ​​interest in cancer research that is becoming a major focus at the National Cancer Institute,” said Michael Friedlander, vice president for health sciences and technology at Virginia Tech and executive director of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute. “We are very fortunate to have so much talent in our research community who are ready to move the needle on this important new focus for both initial cancer prevention and relapse.”

The team focused on data simulating the effects of a ban on menthol cigarettes and a ban on flavored electronic cigarettes on subjects based on education and income levels. The analysis examined four conditions: one that reflected the current market environment, one that imposed a ban on menthol cigarettes only, one that imposed restrictions on the flavor of e-cigarettes only, and one that restricted both menthol cigarettes and flavored e-cigarettes .

Researchers saw significant differences among those that reflected the current market: Participants in the high socioeconomic status group purchased fewer cigarettes, more e-cigarettes and more nicotine replacement therapy.

The lower status group purchased more cigarettes, fewer e-cigarettes and fewer replacement therapy products. Researchers speculate that menthol allows users to inhale more deeply, potentially allowing smokers with limited resources to optimize their nicotine intake.

The key finding was that banning the flavor of menthol cigarettes significantly reduced the differences, with the lower socio-economic status group purchasing fewer cigarettes and more nicotine replacement therapy than the higher socio-economic status group.

They also found that taste restrictions reduced the differences between the groups’ purchases of nicotine replacement therapy.

The special issue of the journal inspired the current research, but the team was looking for opportunities to extend the health equity lens to the experimental market.

“We see that the prevalence of cigarette use in the United States is decreasing, but the disparities are widening,” Lemos said. “Having an experimental model that can investigate that is important for tobacco research.”

More information:
Roberta Freitas-Lemos et al, Selective reduction of socio-economic disparities in the experimental tobacco market: effects of restrictions on cigarette and e-cigarette taste, Nicotine and tobacco research (2024). DOI: 10.1093/ntr/ntad070

Provided by Virginia Tech


Quote: Researchers Find Flavor Restrictions Affect Tobacco Buyers Differently Depending on Socioeconomic Status (2024, June 6), Retrieved June 6, 2024 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2024-06-flavor-restrictions-affect-tobacco -buyers.html

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