Health

Cigarette purchases fell by 6.5% in the US over the summer after 2020 saw increase

Cigarette sales declining again: Purchases fell by 6.5% in the US over the summer after 2020 saw the first increase in nearly two decades

  • Cigarette sales declined by 6.5% in summer 2021 when compared to summer of last year, a new report finds 
  • Altria, the company the published the report, is the biggest cigarette seller in the U.S. and accounts for half of all sales 
  • Last year was the first year since 2004 there was an increase in cigarette sales in the U.S.
  • Pandemic caused smokers to purchase more cigarettes, whether due to increased stress or more free income
  • The increase in smoking during the pandemic was only seen in the U.S., and not in other comparable nations 


The cigarette boom seen in the U.S. during the COVID-19 pandemic seems to have ended over this summer, a new report finds.

Data released by Altria Group, the largest cigarette company in the U.S. – which accounts for half of sales in the nation – shows that Quarter 3 sales fell by 6.5 percent in 2021 when compared to the same period last year.

It marks the potential end of a spike in sales for the cigarette industry after 2020 saw purchases rise for the first year in nearly two decades with years of legislation and public campaigns to reduce smoking worldwide largely successful. 

Altria reports that there were more than $7 billion worth of cigarette sales in Q3 of 2020, compared to only $6.7 billion during the same part of 2021.

Cigarette sales decreased by 6.5% in Q3 2021 when compared to the same period in 2020, falling from 7.1 billion in sales last year to 6.7 billion this year

The number of cigarettes bought by wholesalers and retailers went from 202.9 billion in 2019 to 203.7 billion in 2020, a rise of 0.4 percent, the FTC reports

The number of cigarettes bought by wholesalers and retailers went from 202.9 billion in 2019 to 203.7 billion in 2020, a rise of 0.4 percent, the FTC reports

Experts told the Wall Street Journal that smokers having more free income in 2020 -because the pandemic prevented them on spending money on other things – led to them smoking more, by themselves at home, increasing sales last year. 

Sales of cigarettes have consistently decreased for decades, and the last time there was a single year-over-year increase was in 2004. 

In 2020, throughout the entire year, sales increased by 0.4 percent over 2019, according to data from the Federal Trade Commission released last week. 

Another potential reason reported for the increased cigarette sales is a decline in access to vape and e-cigarette products due to increasing regulations. 

The Food and Drug Administration could potentially ban some vaping products in the near future as well – which could push more users towards cigarettes. 

Research has found that the increase in cigarette sales last year was not due to an increase in the amount of smokers, but instead an increase in how much existing customers smoked.

A team from Massachusetts General Hospital found that smokers who were more stressed due to the pandemic turned more to cigarettes.

Some who feared that lung damage from the virus did drop the habit, though, or at least smoke less often.

Altria also told the Journal that is is believed some spent stimulus or unemployment money on cigarettes, as there was little else to do with the funds for some. 

‘They’re out and about more, and they’re using their discretionary income on other things,’ Billy Gifford, an executive at Altria, told The Journal. 

The phenomena of increased cigarette sales was a U.S. exclusive event though, with other nations not witnessing similar bumps.

Officials and advocacy groups in the United States – and across the world – have been working to decrease the level of tobacco use for decades.

Experts found that there was not an increase in smokers in 2020, just those who smoke started purchasing more cigarettes. This is believed to be because of stress caused by the pandemic and more free income to spend

Experts found that there was not an increase in smokers in 2020, just those who smoke started purchasing more cigarettes. This is believed to be because of stress caused by the pandemic and more free income to spend

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that smoking is the leading preventable cause of death and disease in the U.S., and that 16 million Americans are living with at least one smoking related disease.

Smoking can significantly increase a person’s chance at developing lung cancer, heart disease, asthma, or a variety of other conditions.

An estimated 34 million Americans – around 10 percent of the population – smoke cigarettes. 

The last time sales increased was in 2004, when the industry sold $361.3 billion worth of cigarettes, compared to $360.5 billion in 2003.

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