Catherine Yang

The minimum pack size regulation for cigarette packs may be hindering individuals who want to quit smoking, according to a new study from the Yale School of Public Health.

Federal law puts a 20-stick minimum on cigarette packs, a regulation that increases the price per pack and is meant to prevent young people from buying cigarettes. But researchers at the School of Public Health used the principles of behavioral economics to find that some individuals would buy smaller packs, including 10-packs, to aid them in quitting the habit. The study was published in the journal PLOS ONE on Sept. 10.

“It’s like having a gallon of ice cream in your freezer,” said study senior author and Yale professor of public health and economics Jody Sindelar. “You don’t want that gallon because it’s always there; you can always go get more. It sort of gives you the idea that you could consume more.”

Researchers conducted an online survey, asking participants to choose among three sizes of cigarette packs — a 10-pack, 20-pack and 30-pack — with the price per cigarette held constant. As the survey moved on, the price of the 10-pack increased, or the price of the 30-pack decreased, depending on which pack the user first chose. Users who selected the 10-pack saw its price increase until they chose the 20-pack. Users who selected the 20-pack saw the price of a 30-pack decrease until they chose that pack.

The results, Sindelar said, indicate that individuals who want to quit smoking, especially young and highly educated smokers, lean toward the smaller and often pricier packs.

Though the results of the study are promising for decreasing the incidence of smoking in the population, getting rid of the 20-stick minimum could have negative effects on the number of young people who take up smoking.

“Our main concern at this stage is that the lower price of smaller packs could make cigarettes more accessible to kids and therefore facilitate smoking initiation,” said Joachim Marti, professor of health economics at the Leeds Institute of Health Sciences, in an email. “Future research on cigarette pack size should focus on its impact on youth smoking.”

From 1965 to 2007, the percentage of smoking adults who smoke 20 or more cigarettes per day decreased from 56 percent to 41 percent.