Anti-Smoking Policy Also Seems to Work on Alcohol

Anti-Smoking Policy Also Seems to Work on Alcohol

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This post was originally published on October 29, 2014.

We’re probably all familiar with that feeling of trying to bum cigarettes from friends (or in desperate cases, strangers) after a few too many drinks. Until now that was just a shared experience, but recent study published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research has shown that smoking and drinking are more closely related than previously thought. Strangely enough, the evidence linking these behaviors is primarily economic.

Are High-Priced Cigarettes Affecting How Much We Drink?

According to a recent US News story covering the study, beer and hard liquor drinking has decreased in states with anti-tobacco laws over the past 30 years. Importantly though, there was a somewhat confounding variable in these statistics in that they did not include wine consumption, which recent articles online have shown is way up with millennials.

Lead author Melissa Krauss, a senior statistical data analyst at Wash U’s School of Medicine in St. Louis, wrote that cigarette tax hikes and smoke-free-air policies in the United States have had a synergistic effect of lowering alcohol consumption. “The big message is that some very good state tobacco policies have had public health implications that go beyond what was actually intended,” Krauss said.

For the study’s background, researchers modeled per capita alcohol consumption as a function of the price-per-pack of cigarettes on a state-by-state basis, all between 1980 and 2009. The subsidiary part of this was that total alcohol, beer, wine and liquor consumption per capita were modeled separately as well. What they found was that with every 10% price hike for cigarettes, the overall number of smokers dropped by 2% (which is unfortunately still a pretty inelastic relationship). Likewise, states with weaker tobacco laws had more smokers per capita.

Smokers and Drinkers Are Generally One and the Same

The survey also showed that smokers tended to drink more often than non-smokers, though one rather wonders whether that relationship doesn’t also work the other way around. Regardless, more interesting to note is that for every 1% increase in cigarette prices, there was a slightly less than 1% decrease in overall per capita consumption of alcohol.

Similarly, for every one point increase in a state’s smoke-free-air policy (which is based on a six-point scale), there was again a slightly less than 1% decrease in the consumption of beer and hard liquor as well. “We know that drinking and smoking are closely related behaviors,” said Dr. Norman Edelman, a senior consultant for scientific affairs with the American Lung Association, “so it’s not surprising that if you cut one out that you tend to cut the other out.”

Looking for the Source

Though the data trends they found between alcohol and smoking are definitely closely correlated, the researchers wanted to make clear that correlation is not causation—in other words, it’s too soon to say whether this is or isn’t a cause and effect relationship. Still though, given other recent research about how nicotine primes the brain for other potentially addictive behaviors, the idea that cigarettes might be something of a root cause for drinking in certain contexts doesn’t seem entirely out of the question. As always, there’s room for more research be done; the science of addiction is always messy territory.

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Ryan Aliapoulios is a freelance writer and editor. He also hosts Dad Bops, the world's first intersectional vegan comedy podcast about dad music, available on iTunes and Soundcloud.