Tobacco industry pricing strategies in response to excise tax policies: a systematic review

9 August 2021

Zaineb Danish Sheikh, J Robert Branston, Anna B Gilmore. Source: BMJ Journals


Objective To explore what is known about the tobacco industry’s (TI) price-based responses to tobacco excise tax policies and whether these vary by country income group using a systematic review.

Data sources Studies assessing TI pricing tactics were identified via searches of five online databases using a combination of search keywords.

Study selection Inclusion criteria were applied by two reviewers independently who screened all search results (titles and abstracts) for possible inclusion. They identified 37 publications that reported TI pricing tactics.

Data extraction Study details were tabulated, and information was extracted on the country income group, population characteristics, excise tax structure, and pricing strategies.

Data synthesis Of the 37 publications identified, 22 were conducted in high-income countries, while 15 covered low-income and middle-income countries (LMICs). Major pricing strategies employed were: differentially shifting taxes between products (35 studies); launching new brands/products as pathways for downtrading (six studies), product promotions and different prices for the same products for different customers (six studies); price smoothing (two studies); and changing product attributes such as length/size of cigarettes or production processes (three studies).

Conclusions While there is limited evidence to fully ascertain industry responses to tax increases, this review suggests that the TI widely uses a multitude of sophisticated pricing strategies across different settings around the world with the intention of undermining tax policies, thereby increasing tobacco consumption and maximising their profits. There is a need for further research in this area especially in LMICs so that effective policy responses can be developed.

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