This summer, Jeffrey Hunt, '12, applied his knowledge of economics to an important civic issue that surfaced near his hometown in New York State.

The Seneca Nation of Indians largely depends on cigarette sales to maintain economic sovereignty. An excise tax imposed by the Western District of New York now threatens their livelihood.

"Since the Senecas sell more cigarettes than any other tribe," Hunt said, "they have the most to lose from the new cigarette excise tax law."

Through his research, Hunt uncovered the real impact of this regulation change.

"The general findings of my research indicate that New York Native American tribes are going to lose at least half of their cigarette business," Hunt said, "which means reservations will lose at minimum 5 percent of all economic activity. This will decimate an already destitute population and drive reservations further into poverty." 

However, the negative statistical impact of the excise tax on the Seneca Nation did not prevent Hunt from seeing the issue from multiple perspectives.

"The law will raise more revenue than the state officially anticipates from the tax and significantly decrease smoking levels in New York," Hunt said.

During the summer, Dr. Robert Dolan, served as Hunt’s academic advisor.

"I was pleased with the empirical work," the Robins School of Business professor of economics said, "but I was most impressed with Jeff’s focus and diligence."

In addition to Dolan’s guidance, two economics courses laid the groundwork for Hunt’s work.

"In microeconomic principles and theory, you learn about different elasticities of products," Hunt said. "The principles of price elasticity of demand, as well as cross-price elasticity, were the focus of my research. Additionally, I could not have completed this project without taking econometrics, a course that introduced me to a variety of statistical programs that were vital to my research."

Hunt’s project, funded by a Bonner Center for Civic Engagement Summer Research Fellowship, was one of several grants awarded to individuals exploring factors and dynamics that contribute to social and civic problems.

For Hunt, the summer experience applying classroom skills to a real-world problem was revelatory and initiated plans for future research.

"I plan to use the methods I learned this summer in a similar study," Hunt said. "I'd like to apply the same techniques to an investigation of what will happen to Virginia liquor consumption following the privatization of ABC stores."