While more Americans than ever before are kicking their cigarette habit, a growing number are also turning to large cigars and pipes, suggesting that gains in curbing tobacco consumption may be more elusive than previously thought.
The findings were outlined in a report released by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
What the research found
Overall consumption of smoked tobacco products declined 27.5% between 2000 and 2011, but use of noncigarette smoked tobacco products increased by 123% during the same time period.
One major culprit for the trend is likely price, particularly in the latter part of the decade as Americans grappled with a weak economy and high unemployment.
In 2009, a federal excise tax was enacted that led to pipe tobacco, loose tobacco and cigars being taxed at a significantly lower rate than cigarettes. Responses by the tobacco industry to the tax and resulting price shifts have further compounded the problem, according to the CDC.
"Cigarette-like (tobacco products), formerly thought of as small cigars, have been modified slightly by the manufacturers so that they can be taxed at the lower rate," said Terry Pechacek, CDC's associate director of science and an author on the report.
Young consumers, most important target
As a result, such small cigars which resemble cigarettes are far cheaper, selling for about $1.40 per pack versus $5, Pechacek said. Younger consumers in particular are responding to the shift in pricing and consumption patterns.
"The rise in cigar smoking, which other studies show is a growing problem among youth and young adults, is cause for alarm," said Tim McAfee, director of CDC's Office on Smoking and Health.
McAfee cited a recent report from the US surgeon general, which showed that nearly all smokers start before they are 26 years old, making young consumers the most important target for stopping the epidemic.
The CDC said tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the US, killing nearly half a million Americans each year.
It's estimated that health issues linked to smoking, such as heart and lung disease, cancer, reproductive effects and other chronic diseases, cost taxpayers $193 billion annually in direct health care expenses.
(Reuters Health, August 2012)
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