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An increase in cigarette taxes may lead heavy smokers to cut back more than people who smoke fewer cigarettes, a new study suggests.

Previously, it was assumed that heavy smokers would be less likely to cut back as a result of cigarette price increases, according to the researchers from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

The researchers examined data from more than 7,000 smokers. They were asked how much they smoked at the beginning of the study, and again three years later, HealthDay reports.

“On average, everyone was smoking a little less” at the three-year follow-up, lead researcher Patricia Cavazos-Rehg said in a news release. “But when we factored in price changes from tax increases, we found that the heaviest smokers responded to price increases by cutting back the most.”

At the beginning of the study, the typical smoker averaged 16 cigarettes daily. After three years, that fell to 14 daily. During that period, the average cigarette pack increased from $3.96 to $4.41. State taxes accounted for most of the increase.

The researchers calculated that heavy smokers—those who smoked two packs, or 40 cigarettes a day—would have been expected to reduce their smoking by 11 cigarettes per day, even without a price increase. They found in states where cigarette taxes rose by at least 35 percent, heavy smokers decreased their average smoking by 14 cigarettes a day. That represents an average reduction of 35 percent.

In contrast, those who smoked 20 cigarettes per day reduced their smoking by 15 percent (three cigarettes) when faced with a 35 percent tax increase.

The findings are published in the journal Tobacco Control.

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