CDC: Smokers Are Ditching Cigarettes For Cheaper Tobacco Options

The consumption of loose tobacco and cigars increased a remarkable 123.1 percent from 2000 to 2011 despite an overall downward trend of tobacco consumption, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Annual cigarette consumption declined each year during 2000–2011, but the amount of loose pipe tobacco sold last year was enough to make 17.5 billion cigarettes, suggesting that certain smokers have switched from traditional cigarettes to other tobacco products in the wake of the 2009 federal law that created tax differences between product types:

This analysis shows that cigarette consumption continues to decline in the United States, a trend that has persisted since the 1960s. However, recent changes in consumption patterns, particularly increases in large cigar and pipe tobacco use, have resulted in a slowing of the decline in consumption of all combustible tobacco, and indicate that certain cigarette smokers have switched to using lower-taxed noncigarette combustible products. Moreover, a 2012 Surgeon General’s report found that youths and young adults had even higher rates of cigar use and simultaneous use of multiple tobacco products.

Tobacco companies have always had a knack for adapting. In the 1950s and 60s, as a wave of new research began to show the harmful effects of smoking, Camel coined the “more doctors smoke camels” refrain to ease consumer fears. According to the report:

Recent analysis of excise tax data for pipe tobacco, roll-your-own cigarette tobacco, small cigars, and large cigars reveals that the tobacco industry is adapting the marketing and production of cigars and roll-your-own tobacco products to minimize federal excise tax and thus reduce these tobacco products’ prices compared with cigarettes. […] The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recommends modifying federal tobacco taxes to eliminate large tax differentials between roll-your-own and pipe tobacco and small and large cigars. In addition, because Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations currently do not apply to cigars and pipe tobacco, these products can be produced with flavoring, can be labeled with misleading descriptors such as “light” or “low tar,” and can be marketed and sold with fewer restrictions than apply to cigarettes.

Marketing a tobacco product as “light” or “mild” is blatantly misleading. Under the 2010 FDA rule, it’s now illegal for the tobacco industry to do so: Marlboro Lights are now “Marlboro Golds” and Camel Lights are “Camel Blue.” As the CDC report notes, though, these regulations do not apply to “roll your own” type products — which are much cheaper than packaged cigarettes but just as deadly. The solution, according to the report, is to increase prices, which “has been one of the most effective ways to reduce tobacco use and prevent youth smoking initiation.”

Steven Perlberg