Some smokers apparently would rather switch to puffing on pipe tobacco than pay rising cigarette taxes in the United States. The shift has federal health officials worried that fewer smokers will quit and more youths will start if they can save money by rolling their own cigarettes made with pipe tobacco instead of buying a pack.
Overall, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that the use of combustible tobacco—cigarettes, roll-your-own tobacco, pipe tobacco, and cigars—declined by 27.5% in the United States between 2000 and 2011. But during that time, pipe tobacco consumption was up 482% and large cigar smoking increased by 233%. The report is in today’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
“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,” the authors wrote.
On April 1, 2009, federal excise taxes increased from 39 cents to $1.01 on a pack of cigarettes, from 20.7% to 52.8% of the sales price of large cigars, from $1.10 to $24.78 per pound of roll-your-own tobacco, and from $1.10 to $2.83 on a pound of pipe tobacco.
The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported a dramatic shift in tobacco product sales after the tax hikes went into effect. In 2008, the last full year before the increases, about 3.2 million pounds of pipe tobacco were sold in the United States. That figure increased to 30.5 million pounds in 2011, a 869% increase. During the same period, annual sales of roll-your-own tobacco decreased from 19.7 million pounds to 5.2 million pounds.
The GAO said the shift doesn’t reflect an increase in pipe smoking; it’s attributable to smokers who avoided an extra $21.95 per pound in taxes by using pipe tobacco instead of roll-your-own tobacco to make their own cigarettes.
The CDC reported that from 2000 to 2011, US smokers cut their total cigarette consumption by 32.8% and per capita cigarette smoking decreased by 40.7%. But as cigarette use declined, loose tobacco and cigars assumed a larger share of combustible tobacco products used, up from 3.4% in 2000 to 10.4% in 2011.
After the tax increase, the CDC noted that manufacturers relabeled roll-your-own tobacco as pipe tobacco and then marketed it for roll-your-own use. Manufacturers also made some of their small cigars weigh a little more to be classified as “large” cigars, which are taxed at a lower rate, the report indicated.
“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 authors concluded.