Smoking, Taxes, and Genes

New research suggests that some smokers may carry a gene variant that makes them less likely to quit simply because cigarette taxes are raised.

Bob Grant
Bob Grant
Dec 14, 2012

WIKIMEDIA, PHOTO BY TOMASZ SIENICKIThe 20 percent of Americans that continue to smoke cigarettes even in the face of taxes that have skyrocketed over the past 50 years can now point their nicotine-stained fingers at their own genes. At least, that’s the gist of a new PLOS ONE study that investigated the gene for the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor, or CHRNA6.

The research, conducted by Yale health policy professor Jason Fletcher, used data from a large national health survey that included information on smoking habits  and biological samples from more than 6,000 adults. Fletcher found that about half of those people had a G/G polymorphism in the CHRNA6 gene, which corresponded to a tendency to change their habits in response to taxation. The other half would be presumably less likely to alter their behavior—i.e., quit smoking—in response to a tax hike.

This, Fletcher suggests, might explain the steep drop in the number of people who smoke cigarettes over the past half century and the entrenched 20 percent that can’t seem to kick the habit. Though he cautioned that this was the first study of its kind and should be viewed as preliminary data, Fletcher told The New York Times , “as we get more and more convinced that people with certain genotypes may respond differently to policies, that means that alternative policies may be necessary.”