How do minimum cigarette price laws affect cigarette prices at the retail level?

E C Feighery, K M Ribisl, N C Schleicher, L Zellers, N Wellington
Tobacco Control 2005, 14 (2): 80-5

OBJECTIVES: Half of US states have minimum cigarette price laws that were originally passed to protect small independent retailers from unfair price competition with larger retailers. These laws prohibit cigarettes from being sold below a minimum price that is set by a formula. Many of these laws allow cigarette company promotional incentives offered to retailers, such as buydowns and master-type programmes, to be calculated into the formula. Allowing this provision has the potential to lower the allowable minimum price. This study assesses whether stores in states with minimum price laws have higher cigarette prices and lower rates of retailer participation in cigarette company promotional incentive programmes.

DESIGN: Retail cigarette prices and retailer participation in cigarette company incentive programmes in 2001 were compared in eight states with minimum price laws and seven states without them. New York State had the most stringent minimum price law at the time of the study because it excluded promotional incentive programmes in its price setting formula; cigarette prices in New York were compared to all other states included in the study.

RESULTS: Cigarette prices were not significantly different in our sample of US states with and without cigarette minimum price laws. Cigarette prices were significantly higher in New York stores than in the 14 other states combined.

CONCLUSIONS: Most existing minimum cigarette price laws appear to have little impact on the retail price of cigarettes. This may be because they allow the use of promotional programmes, which are used by manufacturers to reduce cigarette prices. New York's strategy to disallow these types of incentive programmes may result in higher minimum cigarette prices, and should also be explored as a potential policy strategy to control cigarette company marketing practices in stores. Strict cigarette minimum price laws may have the potential to reduce cigarette consumption by decreasing demand through increased cigarette prices and reduced promotional activities at retail outlets.

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