Nicotine reduction as an increase in the unit price of cigarettes: A behavioral economics approach

Tracy T. Smith, Alan F. Sved, Dorothy K. Hatsukami, Eric C. Donny

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Urgent action is needed to reduce the harm caused by smoking. Product standards that reduce the addictiveness of cigarettes are now possible both in the U.S. and in countries party to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Specifically, standards that required substantially reduced nicotine content in cigarettes could enable cessation in smokers and prevent future smoking among current non-smokers. Behavioral economics uses principles from the field of microeconomics to characterize how consumption of a reinforcer changes as a function of the unit price of that reinforcer (unit price. =. cost/reinforcer magnitude). A nicotine reduction policy might be considered an increase in the unit price of nicotine because smokers are paying more per unit of nicotine. This perspective allows principles from behavioral economics to be applied to nicotine reduction research questions, including how nicotine consumption, smoking behavior, use of other tobacco products, and use of other drugs of abuse are likely to be affected. This paper reviews the utility of this approach and evaluates the notion that a reduction in nicotine content is equivalent to a reduction in the reinforcement value of smoking-an assumption made by the unit price approach.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)23-28
Number of pages6
JournalPreventive medicine
StatePublished - Nov 1 2014

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This publication was supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and FDA Center for Tobacco Products (CTP) ( U54 DA031659 awarded to E.C.D.). The funding source had no other role other than financial support. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the NIH or the Food and Drug Administration.


  • Behavioral economics
  • Nicotine
  • Policy


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