People Cope With Pandemic by Smoking

The drop in cigarette sales halted last year as concerns about e-cigs and lockdowns drove smokers to combustibles.

January 29, 2021

WASHINGTON—The decades-long slump in U.S. cigarette sales reversed last year, as people began smoking more frequently to counter lockdowns and health concerns about electronic cigarettes, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, U.S. sales of cigarette units had been dropping rapidly, reaching 5.5% in 2019, as smokers stopped or began using tobacco alternatives, including e-cigarettes. But the pandemic stopped the slide, with the U.S. cigarette industry’s unit sales remaining flat for 2020 compared to 2019, according to data from the Altria Group Inc.

The tobacco company speculated that being forced to stay home gave people both more time to smoke and more money for cigarettes. During the same time frame, some electronic-cigarette users took up cigarettes again because of higher e-cig taxes, flavor vaping product bans and uncertainty about the health impact of vaping.

“COVID-19 has created a drastic change in daily life, including increased stress and anxiety, that may contribute to a smaller-than-expected reduction in cigarette sales,” said a spokeswoman with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Altria, the largest tobacco company in the United States, registered a 4.9% bump in sales to hit $6.3 billion in the quarter ended Dec. 31, 2020, from $6 billion in 2019. Cigarettes and cigars revenue for the company was $5.6 billion.

Earlier this month, the agency announced a delay to the cigarette health warnings labeling. The final rule will now take effect on Jan. 14, 2022.

Read more about the cigarette category’s performance in a chaotic year in “A Full Pack” in the December 2020 issue of NACS Magazine.

Coronavirus Resources

NACS has compiled resources to help the convenience retail community navigate the COVID-19 crisis. For news updates and guidance, visit our coronavirus resources page.