The effect of price on cigarette consumption, distribution, and sale in Tehran: a qualitative study


Background: Appropriate increases in tobacco taxes and prices are an essential component of comprehensive tobacco control strategies. This study investigates factors related to the use, sale, and distribution of cigarettes in Iran, focusing on the relationship between cigarette price and its consumption. Methods: This interview-based qualitative study was conducted among 20 participants, including cigarette smokers, retail shop owners, large-scale distributors, and an expert in tobacco control research. Results: Seven themes were extracted from participant interviews, including the type and price of cigarette, the best time to sell cigarettes, profits from the sale of cigarette, affordability, rise in cigarette price and smokers’ reaction to it, lobbying and black-market sales of cigarettes, and the sale and distribution of cigarettes across the country. Although the price of cigarettes in Iran has shown some increases in the past decade, the timing of these increases are not predictable and the limited amount of these increases has not reduced the use of cigarettes. Following a price increase, consumers are more likely to switch from buying packets to single cigarettes, or buy a less expensive brand, then to quit. Moreover, increases in prices may encourage smokers and sellers to buy a large number of cigarettes and store them for a rainy day. Another adverse effect may be increased smuggling of illicit cigarettes to balance the pressure caused by rising prices. Conclusions: Our findings highlight two important aspects concerning cigarette pricing in Iran. First is the change in the type of purchase from the whole box of cigarettes to the single stick cigarette or swapping to less expensive cigarettes. Second, increase in cigarette price (either through taxing or regular increases) could be offset by flooding smuggled cigarettes into the market. Therefore, in addition to raising cigarette prices, reducing cigarette consumption rates in Iran requires the development and effective implementation of regulatory policies to control cigarette smuggling, reduce purchasing, and subsequently curb the use of this leading cause of premature morbidity and mortality.

Publication Title

BMC Public Health