Decline in cigarette smoking in U.S. significantly offset by increase in other tobacco products

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Low taxes on non-cigarette tobacco products keep addiction “affordable”

While trends in cigarette smoking and sales have declined in the U.S. for the past decade, sales of non-cigarette tobacco products have been on the rise. Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health, led by Professor Greg Connolly, director of the Tobacco Control Research Program at HSPH, and Hillel Alpert, research associate in the program, sought to compare trends in sales of all tobacco products in the U.S. and found that 30% of the recent decline in cigarette sales may be offset by the robust sale of small cigars, snuff and roll-your-own products. Thus, the apparent magnitude of overall decline in tobacco use in the U.S. may be illusory.

The comparative research of tobacco sales of all kinds across the past decade is published as a research letter in the June 11, 2008 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). It is the first study to examine concurrent sales of cigarettes and other tobacco products.

 The major factor in the apparent switch to non-cigarette products by
smokers appears to be price — with the federal tax on other forms of
tobacco 1/10th that of cigarettes — and the heavy attention given to
campaigning against cigarette use but not against other forms of
tobacco products in recent years.

Price increases have proven to be the
single most effective form of curbing tobacco use in the U.S.
population. According to the National Cancer Institute, in the U.S.
smoking-related illnesses account for an estimated 438,000 deaths each
year.  An estimated 25.9 million men (23.9 percent) and 20.7 million
women (18.1 percent) in the U.S. are smokers, according to the American
Heart Association.

“Tobacco kills, no matter if it’s in a cigarette, a
cigar, a snuff can or a roll-your-own,” said Connolly. “Lower federal
and state taxes on these non-cigarette products is keeping tobacco
addiction “affordable” and encouraging preventable disease and death.
All forms of tobacco should be taxed equally, and state campaigns to
curb tobacco use should address this loophole for death.”

Since 1998,
tobacco sales in the U.S. have declined by 2% a year, which has been
hailed as an indicator that smoking itself is on the decline. Overall,
cigarette sales declined 18% from 21.1 billion packs in 2000 to 17.4
billion packs in 2007.  During the same interval sales of other tobacco
products increased by 1.10 billion cigarette pack equivalents (CPE’s)
an estimate based on the products’ tobacco and nicotine content (714
million moist snuff, 256 million roll-your-own tobacco, 130 million
small cigars).

Figures were obtained from The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax
and Trade Bureau, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and from The Tax
Burden on Tobacco report. Nicotine ratings were obtained from the
Massachusetts Department of Public Health filed by tobacco
manufacturers under Massachusetts law.

“Cigarette companies are
responding to the changing pattern of consumption,” write the
researchers, “by entering other tobacco markets, including acquisition
of major U.S. moist snuff manufacturer Conwood by R.J. Reynolds, and by
marketing new snuff and snus products to attract new smokers and new
tobacco users.” Snus is a moist tobacco powder placed under the upper

“Cigars, roll-your-own and smokeless tobacco products are
generally priced lower than cigarettes,” they write. “The weekly cost
for a typical user of a premium moist-snuff brand is 55% less than for
a typical cigarette smoker. State and federal cigarette taxation
policies appear to have been effective in reducing smoking, but small
cigars and roll-your-own tobacco are taxed at 5% to 10% the rate of
cigarettes, resulting in prices much less than an equivalent pack of
cigarettes. These findings should be considered in future policy
decisions meant to curb smoking.”