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Are lower income smokers more price sensitive?: the evidence from Korean cigarette tax increases
  1. Seng Eun Choi
  1. Correspondence to Dr Seng Eun Choi, Department of Government Expenditure, Korea Institute for Public Finance, 79-6 Garak-dong, Songpa-gu, Seoul, Korea; sechoi{at}


Background The cigarette excise taxes and the price of a typical pack of cigarettes in Korea have not increased since 2005, and effective tax rate as a fraction of price and real price of cigarettes have both been falling. As smoking prevalence is higher among lower income people than among higher income people in Korea, the regressivity of cigarette excise taxes is often cited as a barrier to tobacco tax and price policy. While studies in several other high-income countries have shown that higher income individuals are less price sensitive, few studies have examined the differential impact of cigarette tax increases by income group in Korea. Most of the Korean literature has estimated the demand for cigarettes using time-series aggregate sales data or household level survey data, which record household cigarette expenditures rather than individual cigarette consumption. Studies using survey data often lack time-series variation and estimate cigarette demand using household expenditure data, while studies using time-series aggregate sales data lack cross-sectional variation.

Objective I examine differences in the effects of cigarette price on the cigarette consumption of various income groups using individual-level cigarette consumption records from the Korea National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (KHNNES). I also analyse the implications of cigarette taxes and price increases on the relative tax burdens of different income groups.

Design I use pooled data from the KNHNES for the 1998–2011 period to estimate the price elasticity of cigarette consumption of four income groups. Treating cigarette consumption as a latent variable, I employ an econometric procedure that corrects for non-random sample selection, or the fact that some non-smokers might have smoked at a low enough price, and estimate the price elasticity of cigarette consumption by income group. The estimated price elasticities include the responsiveness of potential smokers as well as current smokers.

Results Lower income Korean smokers are more responsive to changes in the price of cigarettes. While the overall price elasticity of cigarettes is estimated to be −0.425, the price elasticity of the lowest income quartile is estimated to be −0.812, whereas that of the highest income quartile is estimated to be −0.325.

Conclusions The estimated price elasticities of different income groups imply that the cigarette tax and price increases in Korea would reduce smoking more in those with lower incomes. For a given price increase, the percentage reduction in cigarette consumption among smokers in the lowest income quartile is 2.5 times greater than among smokers in the top income quartile. The simulated tax burdens of different income groups show that the additional burden of a tax increase and the associated price rise is largely borne by higher income smokers.

  • Economics
  • Price
  • Taxation

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