Why Have Tobacco Control Policies Stalled?

While taxes have helped reduce tobacco use—the single largest cause of death in the United States—by more than 50 percent since the mid-1960s, tobacco use has been largely unchanged for the past 20 years. Could it be that taxation does not have the same effect on everyone?

This researcher hypothesized that genetic factors are “an important source of success (and failure) of these broad-based tobacco control policies.”

The author used data from the National Health and Nutrition Health Examination III (NHANES) Phase 2 study (1991–1994) of 10,000 adults, 7,200 of whom have had recent and ongoing genotyping. He divided the individuals into three groups based on their CHRNA6 genotype, which he describes as a “logical candidate gene for modulating variations in tobacco use.” He tested the association between current tobacco use, an individual’s CHRNA6 genotype, and state-level tobacco tax rates. He found that only individuals with the protective (GG) genotype, which made up 51 percent of his sample, responded to higher state-level tobacco taxes by having increased rates of not smoking.

The findings also suggest that the functional properties of the CHRNA6 and associated genes could be used to create pharmacological treatments for smokers who find it particularly hard to quit.

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Taxing tobacco products helped reduce usage by over 50% since the mid-1960s, why has that number stalled?