The tax on tobacco will be higher again from Monday: ‘People think 30 euros per pack is too much’

The tax on tobacco will be higher again from Monday: ‘People think 30 euros per pack is too much’
The tax on tobacco will be higher again from Monday: ‘People think 30 euros per pack is too much’

When does the price of a pack of cigarettes become too prohibitive? When will you decide to get rid of that addiction once and for all? Marc Willemsen, tobacco control expert at the Trimbos Institute, hopes that the price increase will do its job, but also knows that addiction is persistent. “People think 30 euros per pack is too much, according to research by a PhD student of mine. But that is research among smokers, who of course have an interest in aiming high, in the hope that things will not progress so quickly.” Research by the University of Maastricht shows that half of smokers have only just would stop at a price of 60 euros per pack.

But international research shows that the 10 percent that is now added will already ensure that a number of smokers will quit. “We are used to everything becoming a little bit more expensive. If it is suddenly a significant increase – a pack of rolling tobacco even becomes 3.60 euros more expensive and amounts to more than 24 euros – and if you know that you will continue to see such a jump in the coming years, then that has a psychological effect. This predictability makes you think more quickly about how much you can save if you stop,” says Willemsen. Anyone who previously smoked a pack a day will save more than 4,000 euros annually by quitting smoking with the new prices.

Brain is fooling us

Consumer psychologist Patrick Wessels knows how this works in the brain. “When you buy something that is being talked about or complained about, such as fuel prices, energy costs or now the increase in tobacco taxes, your brain wants to think about that. If it is not to discuss it with others, then it is to justify the purchase to yourself.”

Then you start thinking of reasons why something is or is not too expensive. “You would very rationally say: it is too expensive and it yields too little for me. But that’s putting it too simply, because our brains are very good at fooling us. You deserve that cigarette, because it gives you a moment of peace, you gain weight when you stop – whatever. Or you can balance it out: I’m not going on a flying holiday, so I can take the car extra often.”

“Suppose you look at all your choices very rationally, then you become very pessimistic, because then it turns out that you often make the wrong choices. Your brain prefers to justify your choices: you prefer to think than you even make better choices than others,” says Wessels. “It’s not a bad thing that we do that, it’s a way to protect yourself. If you rationalize all your choices, you would never dare to take new steps again.”

Addiction plays a role

And even then we may find something too expensive, but in practice it is not easy to change our behavior. “It is often said that there is a psychological limit. Take fuel prices, where we thought that if a liter of petrol rose above 2 euros, we would leave the car at home more often. When the time came, we complained louder, but we kept taking that car.”

Addiction certainly plays a role in this, Willemsen knows. “People stick longer to products that are addictive. It is simply easier to let something go if you are less dependent on it. It’s easier to skip soft drinks than a cigarette.”

Double the price?

Among quitters, it appears that costs, in addition to the health benefits of not smoking, are an important factor. “That is invariably mentioned as an incentive,” says Willemsen. Wouldn’t it be better to simply double the price of a pack of cigarettes or roll-your-own tobacco? Wessels: “You will at least ensure that it becomes much more of a national discussion than it is now, forcing people to consciously think about the choice to smoke. That will certainly help.”

Willemsen believes that too. “It will undoubtedly put a lot of people off, but no countries have done this before, so we have no data on the effect it would have. It will also have unpleasant side effects, because it will then become much more attractive for smokers to, for example, buy cartons of cigarettes abroad. You don’t want to encourage that.”

The article is in Dutch

Tags: tax tobacco higher Monday People euros pack


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