China is in the midst of an epidemic of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), which has increasingly accounted for a growing share of disease burden, due in part to China’s ongoing rapid socioeconomic changes and population aging. Smoking, the second leading health risk factors associated with NCDs in China, disproportionately affects the old population more than their younger counterparts. Using survey data from the China Health and Retirement Longitudinal Study (CHARLS), this study evaluated the impact of changes in cigarette affordability on smoking behavior among middle-aged and elderly (age 45 and older) smokers. Self-reported cigarette price and disposable income were used to calculate cigarette affordability. Cigarette consumption was measured using the number of cigarettes smoked per day reported by the survey respondents. The correlation between cigarette affordability and cigarette consumption was estimated using generalized estimating equations adjusting for demographics, socioeconomic status, geolocations, and cigarette price tiers, as well as year fixed effects. The estimated overall conditional cigarette affordability elasticity of demand was –0.165, implying a 10% decrease in cigarette affordability would result in a reduction in cigarette consumption by 1.65%. The cigarette affordability responsiveness differs by demographics, socioeconomic status, geolocations, and cigarette price tiers. This study provides evidence that tax/price policies that reduce cigarette affordability could lead to a decrease in cigarette consumption among middle-aged and elderly smokers in China. Smoke-free laws, as well as minimum price regulations, may be needed to compliment excise tax policy to target specific smoking subgroups whose cigarette consumption is less sensitive to changes in cigarette affordability.
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