The Heterogeneity of the Cigarette Price Effect on Body Mass Index
George Wehby and
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Previous studies estimate the average effect of cigarette price on body mass index (BMI), with recent research showing that their different methodologies all point to a negative effect after several years. This literature, however, ignores the possibility that the effect could vary throughout the BMI distribution or across socioeconomic and demographic groups due to differences in underlying obesity risks or preferences for health. We evaluate heterogeneity in the long-run impact of cigarette price on BMI by performing quantile regressions and stratifying the sample by race, education, age, and sex. Cigarette price has a highly heterogeneous negative effect that is more than three times as strong at high BMI levels – where weight loss is most beneficial for health – than at low levels. The effects are also strongest for blacks, college graduates, middle-aged adults, and women. We also assess the implications for disparities, conduct robustness checks, and evaluate potential mechanisms.