Fewer Americans smoking cigarettes, instead turning to cigars

Fewer Americans are smoking cigarettes, but a growing number are turning to cigarettelike cigars that can sell for as little as seven cents apiece or to cigarettes that users can make themselves out of inexpensive loose tobacco labeled for pipe use, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta reported Thursday.

Sales of these other forms of tobacco — which are taxed at significantly lower rates than both cigarettes and tobacco specifically labeled "roll your own" — have soared in recent years, the CDC said. The amount of loose pipe tobacco sold in 2011 was enough to make 17.5 billion cigarettes, a sixfold increase over the amount sold in 2008, which was equivalent to 2.6 billion cigarettes.

Meanwhile, sales of loose tobacco specifically labeled for roll-your-own use and taxed at higher rates dropped by 75 percent during the same four-year period.

''While consumption patterns of traditional cigarettes have continued to decline, when we take into account these alternative cigarettelike products, we're seeing a lack of change in the overall consumption of burned tobacco that is being inhaled," said Terry Pechacek, associate director for science with the CDC Office on Smoking and Health in Atlanta and one of the report's authors.

Overall consumption dropped by less than 1 percent in 2011 from 2010, he said.


Meanwhile, sales of large cigars more than doubled from 2008 to 2011, after manufacturers increased the weight of certain small cigars, enabling them to be classified as large cigars, which are taxed at a lower rate than small cigars and cigarettes, a CDC commentary noted.

From 2008 to 2011, the number of small cigars sold dropped to less than a billion from 5.9 billion, while sales of large cigars rose to 12.9 billion from 5.7 billion.

The lower prices of these alternative products are particularly appealing to young people, for whom cost is a significant deterrent to smoking, said Michael Tynan, a public health analyst with the CDC and one of the authors of the report.

The increased popularity of loose pipe tobacco, which is often marketed now for dual use, and of the cigarettelike large cigars seems to be directly related to a 2009 increase in the federal tobacco excise tax, which made pipe tobacco far less expensive than roll-your-own tobacco, and large cigars less heavily taxed than small cigars and cigarettes. The difference in taxes for the two types of loose tobacco is $21.95 per pound, which led manufacturers to relabel roll-your-own tobacco as pipe tobacco, while marketing it for roll-your-own use.

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