At $3.51 per pack, Massachusetts has one of the nation’s highest cigarette tax rates, while Missouri has one of the nation’s lowest with just 17 cents per pack. What accounts for those differences?

New research from the American Journal of Public Health suggests that even in economic recessionary periods state changes in cigarette tax rates may have more to do with a state’s political leanings than its economic status.

The study finds that, prior to 1998, Democratic control of a state was related to higher tax rates while Republican control had no effect. Researchers further observed that following 2000, Democratic control had no effect on cigarette tax rates and Republican control was related to lower cigarette tax rates.

Researchers reviewed cigarette excise tax data from 1981-2011 alongside data from various resources, including the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the General Social Survey and the U.S. Census.

“Despite suggestions that recessionary periods spark higher cigarette taxes, the speed of excise tax growth in the future may depend more on the political leanings of state legislators, and the attitudes of the people they represent, than on the economic circumstances they face,” the study’s authors explain.

Other findings reveal that states that do not produce tobacco are more likely to have higher tax rates. In addition, states in the Northeast, Midwest and West tend to have higher tax rates than southern states. There may be more to observe in the future as cigarette tax rates continue to be debated state by state and may possibly introduce e-cigarettes in their discussions of taxes.

Raising tobacco excise taxes have been proven an effective strategy in reducing rates of tobacco use.

For more information about this study and others recently released, visit www.ajph.org.