Michal Stoklosa wins ESSA Founders’ Medal for best PhD in Economics

22 Sep 2023
Michal Stoklosa
22 Sep 2023

Recently we heard that Michal Stoklosa, who received his PhD from UCT in 2020, was awarded the Economic Society of South Africa’s (ESSA) Founders’ Medal for the best PhD thesis written at a South African university. Michal’s thesis was entitled “Effects of the evolving global tobacco product landscape on smokers’ switching behaviors”.

From all of us at REEP, we want to congratulate Michal on this amazing achievement.

Prof. Corné Van Walbeek had the good fortune to be his supervisor, with Jeff Drope of the University of Illinois in Chicago, as his co-supervisor. Michal hails from Poland. Michal currently works as an Economist at the Fiscal Policies for Health Unit at the World Health Organization. Previously he worked at the National Institute of Public Health in Poland, American Cancer Society, and the University of Illinois in Chicago.

In this brief interview, Michal shares details of his research:

1.     Briefly explain what your PhD thesis was about

My thesis analyses three aspects of tobacco product switching. First, using smokers’ survey data from Zambia, I found that reducing between-product price differences would reduce substitution from cigarettes to roll-your-own tobacco. Second, I used retailer panel data from Japan to show that traditional cigarette sales trends changed significantly when a novel tobacco product, IQOS, was introduced. Thus, between-product switching is influenced by the new product’s introduction. Finally, I used European Commission data to demonstrate that differences in cigarette prices between jurisdictions might incentivize some smokers from jurisdictions with more expensive cigarettes to switch to cheaper cigarettes available across the border.

2.      Which chapter in the thesis was the most interesting, and why?

I found the most interesting chapter of my thesis to be the one focused on the effect of introducing IQOS on cigarette sales. After researching economic and management literature, I discovered little literature measuring the impacts of one product introduction on sales of another. I consulted many great minds to develop the chapter's method. The method used, which involved testing placebo models to see if other events could have explained cigarette sales trends better than the IQOS introduction, was innovative and could be applied more broadly in management. Since the publication of my thesis, other research has used the method already.

3.      To what extent has your PhD research influenced your current job at WHO?

When writing my PhD, I learned a lot about the subject matter and research methodology. I gained valuable skills in econometrics in particular. The writing process also helped me develop essential skills, such as time management and effective communication. All those skills have proven to be incredibly useful in my current job.

4.      What advice would you give to potential PhD candidates who want to research aspects of the economics of tobacco control?

The REEP group at the UCT is the strongest academic group in research on the taxation of unhealthy products among all schools of economics. Suppose you are considering undertaking doctoral studies in economics in the field. In that case, REEP is the best place to pursue your PhD. Additionally, the REEP group has strong connections with organizations working on the taxation of unhealthy products. I would suggest candidates use those connections by collaborating with experts in the field and attending related conferences or seminars to meet potential employers. The economics of tobacco control is an applied field, which means that after graduation, you could have a meaningful job with a real impact on policymaking and saving lives. It's a very satisfying field to work in.

Michal’s full PhD can be found here. Papers derived from the thesis chapters are the following:

  • Price, tax and tobacco product substitution in Zambia: findings from the ITC Zambia Surveys, Tobacco Control.
  • Prices and cross-border cigarette purchases in the EU: evidence from demand modelling, Tobacco Control.
  • Effect of IQOS introduction on cigarette sales: evidence of decline and replacement, Tobacco Control.