NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


September 29, 2008

Tobacco already kills 5.4 billion people a year, and the number of smokers is likely to skyrocket as the vice catches on in developing countries.  So, how to prevent a plague of cancer deaths?  You could spend $500 million on an antismoking campaign, or you could sign everyone up for a cell phone. 

According to a new World Bank study, cell phone ownership could affect tobacco consumption because individuals might pay for their communication with money they would have spent on tobacco.  Using panel data from 2,100 households in 135 communities in the Philippines collected in 2003 and 2006 -- just as cell phones were catching on -- researchers found that that the percentage of households owning a cell phone more than quadrupled. 


  • Cell phone ownership led to a 20 percent decline in monthly tobacco consumption.
  • Among households in which at least one member smoked in 2003, purchasing a cell phone leads to a 32.6 percent decrease in tobacco consumption per adult over the age of 15.
  • This is equivalent to one less pack of 20 cigarettes per month per adult.

They conclude that tobacco and cell phones have a special relationship: cash-constrained household have to make a trade-off between the two luxuries, and the social status once signaled by burning up your money on smokes can now be conferred by yapping away on a flashy new phone.

Source: Julien Labonne and Robert S. Chase, "So You Want to Quit Smoking: Have You Tried a Mobile Phone?" World Bank, Policy Research Working Paper, No. 4657, June 1, 2008.

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