Tobacco Firms: Preying on the Poor?

By Xavier Roxy

June 7, 2024


Australia is on the verge of implementing a series of new limitations on vaping, as research indicates that flavour restrictions impact tobacco consumers differently based on their socioeconomic standing. The findings suggest that tobacco companies are profiting more by targeting lower-income groups, thereby exacerbating health impacts among this demographic. 


One solution proposed is to limit the availability of menthol flavours in cigarettes while making nicotine replacement therapies, such as transdermal patches to alleviate withdrawal symptoms, more accessible and affordable. Such measures could potentially reduce socioeconomic disparities in tobacco consumption but would necessitate regulatory intervention to compel tobacco firms to eliminate flavourings from their addictive products. 


This was one of the primary conclusions drawn from a study published in the academic journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research. Titled "Selective Reduction of Socioeconomic Disparities in the Experimental Tobacco Marketplace: Effects of Cigarette and E-cigarette Flavor Restrictions," this groundbreaking investigation leverages existing data from VTC's Addiction Recovery Research Center at Fralin Biomedical Research Institute. 


The researchers employed data from their Experimental Tobacco Marketplace for an insightful exploration beyond general effects brought about by tax policies and regulations concerning flavoured nicotine restriction's impact on health equity. 


In America, cigarette smoking stands as a principal cause behind preventable deaths according to U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics. Moreover, it accounts for over 30% disparity observed in life expectancy across diverse socioeconomic strata; explains Roberta Freitas-Lemos – Assistant Professor & Lead Author of this study. 


Evidence suggests that flavored tobacco products like menthol cigarettes have been aggressively marketed within socioeconomically disadvantaged communities characterized by lower educational attainment levels or household incomes. This strategy has led not only to enhanced adverse health outcomes within these communities but also deepened disparities related to social class-based health results. 


Several other factors contribute towards higher propensity amongst working-class individuals towards smoking: limited access to cost-effective cessation services; social dynamics including prevalent use amongst peers coupled with lackluster support for quitting; and heightened exposure to stress and adversity. 


The research team, led by Freitas-Lemos, identified a unique opportunity to utilize the marketplace as an extension of Fralin Biomedical Research Institute's endeavors in promoting equity and inclusivity within health research. They leveraged pre-existing data sets, divided samples based on socioeconomic status, and compared the effects of policy implementations on purchasing behaviors across different groups. 


Freitas-Lemos affirms that their study demonstrates how flavor restrictions could potentially diminish tobacco-related morbidity and mortality rates. However, she also emphasizes the need for broader contextual evaluation when implementing tobacco restrictions given that smokers' substitution choices are heavily influenced by other available product alternatives. This new wave of vaping restrictions in Australia has been informed by such comprehensive considerations aiming towards healthier outcomes for all societal segments.


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