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Decline in Cigarette Sales Offset by Use of Alternative Products

Low taxes on substitute tobacco items keep addiction affordable, study says

TUESDAY, June 10 (HealthDay News) -- Cigarette sales in the United States have declined in recent years, but sales of non-cigarette tobacco products have risen and offset the decline in cigarette sales by 30 percent, a Harvard School of Public Health study finds.

Researchers analyzed federal government data and found that between 2000 and 2007, cigarette sales declined 18 percent, from 21.1 billion packs to 17.4 billion packs. Over that same period, sales of other tobacco products increased by the equivalent of 1.10 billion packs of cigarettes -- 714 million moist snuff, 256 million roll-your-own tobacco, and 130 million small cigars.

The findings, published in the June 11 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, suggest the apparent magnitude of overall decline in tobacco use in the United States may be illusory, the researchers said.

"Cigarette companies are responding to the changing pattern of consumption by entering other tobacco markets, including acquisition of major U.S. moist snuff manufacturer Conwood by R.J. Reynolds, and by marketing new snuff and snus (moist tobacco powder placed under the upper lip) products to attract new smokers and new tobacco users," the study authors wrote.

Cost is one reason for the upsurge in the use of non-cigarette tobacco products.

"Cigars, roll-your-own and smokeless tobacco products are generally priced lower than cigarettes. The weekly cost for a typical user of a premium moist-snuff brand is 55 percent less than for a typical cigarette smoker. State and federal cigarette taxation polices appear to have been effective in reducing smoking, but small cigars and roll-your-own tobacco are taxed at 5 percent to 10 percent the rate of cigarettes, resulting in prices much less than an equivalent pack of cigarettes. These findings should be considered in future policy decisions meant to curb smoking," the researchers wrote.

"Tobacco kills, no matter if it's in a cigarette, a cigar, a snuff can, or a roll-your-own. Lower federal and state taxes on these non-cigarette products is keeping tobacco addiction 'affordable' and encouraging preventable disease and death. All forms of tobacco should be taxed equally, and state campaigns to curb tobacco use should address this loophole for death," study leader Professor Greg Connolly, director of the Tobacco Research Program at the Harvard School of Public Health, said in a prepared statement.

Each year in the United States, about 438,000 people die of smoking-related illnesses. About 25.9 million men (23.9 percent) and 20.7 million women (18.1 percent) in the United States are smokers, according to the American Heart Association.

More information

The National Cancer Institute has more about smokeless tobacco.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Harvard School of Public Health, news release, June 10, 2008

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