CDC: New Smoking Patterns Are Cause for Alarm

Cigars and Other Non-Cigarettes Rise in Popularity

By Matt McMillen
WebMD Health News

Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Aug. 2, 2012 -- People light up fewer cigarettes these days, but the number of cigars and the amount of pipe tobacco used for roll-your-owns smoked each year is on the rise.

And, while the total amount of tobacco consumption continues to drop, that decline is slowing. Between 2010 and 2011, tobacco use dropped by less than 1%. The reason may be economical, at least in part, as industry has figured out ways around taxes meant to discourage smoking.

"The data suggest that certain smokers have switched from cigarettes to other combustible tobacco products, most notably since a 2009 increase in the federal tobacco excise tax that created tax disparities between product types," write the authors of the report, part of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report for Aug. 3.

Changing Habits

Smokers puffed on more than 435 billion cigarettes in 2000. By last year, that number had dropped by a third, to less than 300 billion. Those same 11 years, however, also saw non-cigarette tobacco consumption more than double, from about 15 billion cigarette equivalents to just under 34 billion, a 123% rise.

More than other forms of tobacco, smokers really took to pipe tobacco for roll-your-owns. The CDC report estimates that consumption of such tobacco increased by almost 500% between 2000 and 2011. Pipe tobacco, the report states, shot up in popularity after a 2009 excise tax increased the price of cigarette-equivalent roll-your-own tobacco. That price hike, the authors suggest, contributed to a 573% increase in pipe tobacco consumption between 2008 and 2011.

Industry Tactics

According to an editorial note accompanying the report, what has become so popular is pipe tobacco in name only. Producers of roll-your-own cigarette tobacco simply relabeled their product as pipe tobacco in order to avoid the new tax. They then marketed their "pipe tobacco" as a roll-your-own tobacco. Nothing changed but the label.

Meanwhile, in an effort to avoid a tax that increases retail prices of "small" cigars, manufacturers of such cigarette-sized cigars simply added a little extra weight to their product. That allowed them to be classified as "large," a category not taxed as aggressively. Consumption of such cigars jumped 233% between 2000 and 2011.

A Surgeon General's report, the authors note, found that cigars and other non-cigarette smoking products were becoming increasingly popular among teens and young adults.

"The rise in cigar smoking, which other studies show is a growing problem among youth and young adults, is cause for alarm," Tim McAfee, MD, MPH, director of CDC's Office on Smoking and Health, says in a news release.

"Increasing prices has been one of the most effective ways to reduce tobacco use and prevent youth smoking initiation," they write. "Diminishing the public health impact of excise tax increases and regulation can hamper efforts to prevent youth smoking initiation, reduce consumption, and prompt quitting."


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SOURCES: News release, CDC. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Aug. 3, 2012.

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