According to research by RIVM on the 2023 excise duty increase, the increased excise duty (tax) on tobacco products is having a noticeable impact on smokers' behaviour. Following the increase, 28% of smokers attempted to quit, with 10% succeeding. Additionally, 18% of smokers reduced their consumption. However, the purchasing of tobacco products abroad increased after the excise duty increase.

RIVM surveyed smokers twice in 2023 – before and after the excise duty increase – asking them about how the increased costs affected their behaviour. Before the increase, smokers indicated they would likely alter their habits as a result, a change many followed through on.

Health as the primary motivation

Health remains the primary motivation for quitting. Nonetheless, 53% of smokers who have attempted to quit or have successfully managed to quit cited increased costs as a contributing factor.

Earlier intentions to quit

The research furthermore shows that people who tried to quit had the intention to do so even before the excise duty increase. This group had not been smoking as long and experienced more support from their surroundings to quit. Additionally, they perceived themselves less as ‘true smokers’.

 More purchases abroad

On average, people started buying more tobacco products abroad when they were significantly cheaper there, as is the case in Germany and Belgium. It is notable that smokers who reported purchasing more across the border did not exclusively reside in border areas. It is estimated that, following the excise duty increase, there has been an absolute increase of 10 to 11% in tobacco product purchases abroad.

Continuation of previous RIVM research

This study follows up on earlier research from 2020, which coincided with another excise duty increase. As that study was conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic, comparing results proves challenging. Both studies focus on four behavioural changes resulting from price measures: quitting smoking, reducing cigarette consumption, purchasing tobacco products abroad and switching to cheaper alternatives.

Recommendations for policymakers

The research highlights that an excise duty increase mainly affects individuals already inclined to quit. Policies aimed at boosting this inclination, such as education, restricting tobacco availability and expanding smoke-free environments, remain important. Researchers conclude that each excise duty increase prompts some smokers to attempt quitting. RIVM therefore suggests policymakers continue to periodically increase the excise duty on tobacco. In addition, however, it is important to keep advocating for consistent tobacco policies across Europe.

RIVM carried out these studies on behalf of the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport. The study will be repeated once more around the excise duty increase on 1 April 2024.