Selective Reduction of Socioeconomic Disparities in the Experimental Tobacco Marketplace: Effects of Cigarette and E-cigarette Flavor Restrictions


Introduction: Cigarette smoking accounts for >30% of the socioeconomic gap in life expectancy. Flavored restrictions claim to promote equity; however, no previous studies have compared the effect of cigarette and e-cigarette flavor restrictions among individuals who smoke with lower and higher socioeconomic status (SES).

Aims and Methods: In a between-group within-subject design, individuals with lower (n = 155) and higher (n = 125) SES completed hypothetical purchasing trials in the experimental tobacco marketplace (ETM). Conditions were presented in a 2 × 2 factorial design (cigarette flavors restricted or unrestricted and e-cigarette flavors restricted or unrestricted) with increasing cigarette prices across trials.

Results: Results show (1) SES differences in cigarette, e-cigarette, and NRT purchases under unrestricted policies, with lower SES showing higher cigarette demand and lower e-cigarette and NRT substitution than higher SES, (2) cigarette restrictions decreased cigarette and increased NRT purchases among lower SES, but no significant changes among higher SES, (3) decreased SES differences in cigarette demand under cigarette restrictions, but persistence under e-cigarette restrictions or their combination, (4) persistence of SES differences in e-cigarette purchases when all restrictions were enforced, and (5) waning of SES differences in NRT purchasing under all restrictions.

Conclusions: Flavor restrictions differentially affected individuals based on SES. Within-group comparisons demonstrated restrictions significantly impacted lower SES, but not higher SES. Between-group comparisons showed SES differences in cigarette purchasing decreased under cigarette restrictions, but persisted under e-cigarette-restrictions or their combination. Additionally, SES differences in NRT substitution decreased under flavor restrictions. These findings highlight the utility of the ETM to investigate SES disparities.

Implications: With increasing trends of socioeconomic differences in smoking prevalence and cessation rates, smoking-related health disparities are expected to continue to widen. Restricting menthol flavor in cigarettes while enhancing the availability and affordability of NRT have the potential to alleviate SES disparities in tobacco use, therefore, positively impacting health equity. However, this effect may depend on flavor availability in other tobacco products.