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Was there significant tax evasion after the 1999 50 cent per pack cigarette tax increase in California?
  1. S Emery*,
  2. M M White,
  3. E A Gilpin,
  4. J P Pierce
  1. Cancer Prevention and Control Program, Cancer Center, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, California, USA
  1. Correspondence to:
 John P Pierce, PhD, Cancer Prevention and Control Program, Cancer Center, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92093-0645, USA;


Objectives: Several states, including California, have implemented large cigarette excise tax increases, which may encourage smokers to purchase their cigarettes in other lower taxed states, or from other lower or non-taxed sources. Such tax evasion thwarts tobacco control objectives and may cost the state substantial tax revenues. Thus, this study investigates the extent of tax evasion in the 6–12 months after the implementation of California's $0.50/pack excise tax increase.

Design and setting: Retrospective data analysis from the 1999 California Tobacco Surveys (CTS), a random digit dialled telephone survey of California households.

Main outcome measures: Sources of cigarettes, average daily cigarette consumption, and reported price paid.

Results: Very few (5.1 (0.7)% (±95% confidence limits)) of California smokers avoided the excise tax by usually purchasing cigarettes from non- or lower taxed sources, such as out-of-state outlets, military commissaries, or the internet. The vast majority of smokers purchased their cigarettes from the most convenient and expensive sources: convenience stores/gas (petrol) stations (45.0 (1.9)%), liquor/drug stores (16.4 (1.6)%), and supermarkets (8.8 (1.2)%).

Conclusions: Despite the potential savings, tax evasion by individual smokers does not appear to pose a serious threat to California's excise tax revenues or its tobacco control objectives.

  • California cigarette excise tax
  • tax revenues
  • price sensitivity

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  • * This work was completed while Sherry Emery was at the Cancer Prevention and Control Program, University of California, San Diego. She is currently at the Health Research and Policy Centers, University of Illinois at Chicago.