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07-08-2012 | Article

Smokers switch to pipes and cigars

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MedWire News: Although cigarette smoking in the USA declined by one third over the past decade, consumption of cigars and pipe tobacco soared, possibly because of tax changes, study results show.

By looking at tobacco taxes as a marker of consumption, investigators from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that from 2000 to 2011, total consumption of all combustible tobacco products - rolled and loose - declined from 450.7 billion cigarette equivalents to 326.6 billion, a decrease of 27.5%. Over the same period, per capita consumption fell from 2148 cigarette equivalents annually to 1374, a decrease of 36.0%.

But while cigarette-only consumption waned by 32.8% over the study period, use of loose tobacco and cigars increased by a whopping 123.1%. Those latter forms of tobacco accounted for 10.4% of all combustible tobacco consumption in 2011, compared with 3.4% in 2011.

"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 Michael Tynan (Office on Smoking and Health, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Atlanta, Georgia) and colleagues in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).

In 2009, changes to the federal tobacco excise tax made pipe tobacco cheaper than off-the-shelf cigarettes and loose "roll-your-own" tobacco. Additionally the changes meant that large cigars would be taxed less than small cigars and packaged cigarettes.

"Because loose tobacco products are classified based on how they are labeled, the loose tobacco tax disparity of $ 21.95 per pound led manufacturers to relabel roll-your-own tobacco as pipe tobacco and then market this relabeled pipe tobacco for roll-your-own use," MMWR editors write in an editorial note.

"In addition, manufacturers were able to increase the per-unit weight of certain small cigars to take advantage of a tax benefit when classified as large cigars, which are taxed based on the product price rather than per cigar. As a result of relatively minor increases in per-unit weight, the new 'large cigar' can appear almost identical to a 'small cigar,' which resembles a typical cigarette and can cost as little as 7 cents per cigar," they continue.

The editors note that although pipe and cigar smoke carries the same toxic chemicals as cigarette smoke, Food and Drug Administration regulation does not apply to those products, allowing manufacturers and marketers to label them as "low-tar" or "light" when they are anything but.

"Diminishing the public health impact of excise tax increases and regulation can hamper efforts to prevent youth smoking initiation, reduce consumption, and prompt quitting," the editors conclude.

By Neil Osterweil, MedWire Reporter