Cigarette Use Down But Cigars, Other Smokes Are Up. Blame Taxes.

By Karen Weintraub
Guest contributor

Higher taxes drove a significant number of Americans away from cigarettes last year, according to a new study from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But instead of quitting, many of those smokers shifted to other sources of tobacco that are not taxed as heavily.

Cigarette use declined by 2.5% between 2010 and 2011, the new study reveals, while consumption of other forms of smoked tobacco such as cigars and homemade cigarettes rose more than 17%. Since 2000, cigarette use has dropped by 33% while use of non-cigarette products rose 123%, with the biggest increase coming since a 2009 hike in federal cigarette taxes – which exempts cigars and loose tobacco.

The lobbying arm of the American Cancer Society responded to the numbers by calling yesterday for the government to close that tax loophole, which the society said undermines cessation efforts and deprives the government of money.

“The CDC’s data clearly demonstrate that the disparity in tax treatment of tobacco products is undercutting our ability to effectively reduce tobacco use and save lives,” Chris Hansen, president of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, said in a statement.

Dr. Jonathan Winickoff, an associate professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and an expert in tobacco control, said tax hikes do reduce smoking rates. But quitting is hard.

“Anything that makes it more difficult to get smoked nicotine will push folks to either quit or get nicotine from another source – that can include pharmaceutical nicotine, like the patch,” he said via e-mail. Roughly 19 percent of Americans smoke, and although 70 percent of them say they want to quit, just 2-3 percent succeed in any given year, Winickoff said. “The quitting percentage can increase dramatically given smoke-free laws, tax increases, and availability of cessation programs. It is getting harder and harder to be a smoker in the US which is why the smoking rate keeps going down.”

Karen Weintraub, a Cambridge-based health and science journalist, is a frequent contributor to CommonHealth.

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  • gadogs

    Definitely makes sense that smoking rates would decline if taxes/costs go up. I know the federal tax in ’09 jumped from around $0.35 to $1.01. Couple that with many states raising their cig tax, and it seemed the cost almost doubled within a year. Another method of nicotine delivery that’s not taxed like this is e-cigarettes – – in fact, a pack-a-day smoker could save around 1/2 of what they were spending on traditional cigarettes. Before all of the new taxes, this may have only been a 15-20% savings.

  • Reasonable?

    I think cigar and pipe tobacco smoking are different from cigarettes and chews.
    Cigars and pipes tend to be used occasionally instead of chronically by the vast majority of users.  The evidence linking occaional pipe and cigar smoking to cancer is much weaker than that of chronic cigarette and chew use. 

    Ironically the reason cigars and pipes are use less is because they are much more potent than cigarrettes.  Most people puff instead of inhale pipes and cigars because they are so noxious.

    so I’m not sure this arm of the tobacco crusade is really worth a signficant effort because the harm is much less.

    • Blake

      not to mention that cigars and pipes have much lower rates of addiction (one particular study done by the NIH showed, in the heaviest cigar smokers, nicotine levels that were roughly equivalent to that of individuals with moderate second hand smoke exposure. these were people smoking several cigars a day. like with smoker health overall, there’s no way to tell if it’s due to a diferance in the product, or in behavior, but something is certainly different. most who smoke pipes and cigars do so because they consciously want to.

      • Amorrowb50

        Most a lot of the increase is that people are taking the small cigars, removing the inside tobacco and stuffing them with marijuana. After that it’s called a “Blunt”.