NPR logo When Cigarettes Cost More, People Drink Less. Except For Wine

Public Health

When Cigarettes Cost More, People Drink Less. Except For Wine

Either we smoke or we drink or we break up. iStockphoto hide caption

toggle caption iStockphoto

Either we smoke or we drink or we break up.

iStockphoto

For those who count Don Draper among their TV loves (or love-to-hates), it comes as no surprise that drinking and smoking go hand in hand. Public health researchers have long known that smokers tend to drink, drinkers tend to smoke, and heavy smokers (see: nearly anyone on Mad Men) tend to drink even more heavily.

We've also known that increasing state taxes on cigarettes actually reduces smoking and helps people break the habit.

Raising cigarette taxes also lowers the amount of drinking, the most recent analysis finds. The study, published Wednesday in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, highlights the tie between the vices.

"It seems logical that as smoking decreases due to these policies that drinking might also decrease," Melissa Krauss, a data analyst at the Washington University School of Medicine and one of the authors of the study, tells Shots.

However, the beneficial effect only applied to beer and spirits, not wine. Wine drinkers, the authors say, are more likely to have healthier lifestyle habits than beer or spirits drinkers. As Krauss says: "[The results] made sense to us because prior research shows that wine drinkers are less likely to smoke." (Granted, this doesn't explain Betty Draper's propensity to light up.)

Krauss and her fellow researchers analyzed U.S. data between 1980 and 2009, looking at how much alcohol was consumed per state, per person; each state's price for a pack of cigarettes; and their smoke-free air policies.

Controlling for other variables like income, unemployment rate and religious affiliation, they saw the price of cigarettes (a median of just $1.76 per pack in 1980, compared to $5.68 in 2009) and adoption of smoke-free policies increase, while alcohol consumption dropped. States that showed the highest tax increases per pack also showed the greatest reduction in drinking — 26 percent, compared to just 5 percent in states with low cigarette price increases.

The researchers suggest it's possible to kill two birds with one stone; a 20 percent increase in cigarette price would correlate to a nearly 2 percent reduction in per capita drinking.

"We already know that strengthening tobacco policies has great benefit in reducing smoking prevalence," says Krauss. "This shows that there are unintended consequences that are having good public health benefits as well."

We no longer support commenting on NPR.org stories, but you can find us every day on Facebook, Twitter, email, and many other platforms. Learn more or contact us.