In the United States, 70 percent of the price of a cigarette goes to government - not so in other countries. Though smoking has plummeted in America, in various other regions of the world the smoking rates remain over 40 percent.

E-cigarettes have made inroads in western countries because they replace the nicotine of cigarettes, the same way nicotine gums and patches do, but also the physical and psychological mechanism of smoking. Proponents argue that makes the transition to quitting cigarettes easier, while critics charge that e-cigarettes are just an augmentation for smokers and even encourage new smoking, by creating an inhalation gateway, because they are a cheap, tax advantaged product relative to heavily-taxed cigarettes.

Not so, according to a new American Cancer Society study in Tobacco Control. In 44 of 45 countries they looked at, cigarettes are cheaper than vapor alternatives.

Alex Liber, of the American Cancer Society and the University of Michigan School of Public Health, and colleagues compared the cost of combustible cigarettes to those for two major kinds of e-cigarettes: disposable e-cigarettes (non-refillable); and rechargeable e-cigarettes, which can be refilled with nicotine liquid. 

They found that on average, the price of a pack of combustible tobacco cigarettes was just over half the price of a disposable e-cigarette ($5.00 and $8.50, respectively). They also found that while the liquid nicotine used to refill e-cigarettes can cost a couple of dollars less than a pack of regular cigarettes, the minimum price to purchase a rechargeable e-cigarette to use this liquid nicotine is more than $20. The rechargeable e-cigarettes preferred by most daily e-cigarette users cost even more.

As noted, there is considerable debate in the public health community and media about e-cigarettes. Among those who see a role for e-cigarettes to reduce tobacco-related death and disease, some argue that price differences between combustible cigarettes and e-cigarettes could be effective in moving current combustible users to e-cigarettes. This paper found that a difference in price between combustibles and e-cigarettes already exists, albeit with e-cigarettes being the more expensive product.

The study's authors reinforce the importance of increasing the price of cigarettes through excise taxes, but suggest that how to tax e-cigarettes is complex. Some jurisdictions around the world, notably the United Kingdom, with a pack of cigarettes averaging the equivalent of nearly US $14, have achieved price equality between cigarettes and e-cigarettes. 

Article: Liber AC, Drope JM, Stoklosa M. "Combustible Cigarettes Cost Less to Use than E-Cigarettes: Global Evidence and Tax Policy Implications". Tob Control. ePub 28 Mar 2016. doi: 0.1136/tobaccocontrol-2015-052874.

Source: American Cancer Society. Top image: Ed Schipul, CC BY-SA