The number of American adults who smoke cigarettes has fallen sharply, from 42.4 percent in 1965 to 15.1 percent in 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Naturally, cigarette sales also declined over the same period.
But new research in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine shows that the fall in sales of traditional cigarettes slowed in 2015, while sales of e-cigarettes — which also pose health hazards — are skyrocketing.
Using retail data from 2011 to 2015, a team led by Kristy L. Marynak, a specialist on smoking at the CDC, tracked sales of traditional cigarettes and e-cigarettes in 48 states (excluding Alaska, Hawaii and Washington DC). The team found that:
- Sales of traditional cigarettes declined nationwide between 2014 and 2015 by 1.4 percent, but climbed in 15 states (some for the first time in a decade). For example, sales were up in Idaho by 15.1 percent, Oklahoma by 5.6 percent and South Dakota by 5.8 percent. In recent years, declines across the country measured between 2 and 4 percent.
- Nationwide sales of e-cigarettes — battery-powered devices that heat a liquid containing nicotine into a vapor for inhaling — jumped 14.4 percent in the same year, increasing the most in Michigan (27.2 percent); 17 other states also saw increases in e-cigarette sales.
- Previous research shows that sales of e-cigarettes climbed by 150 percent between 2012 and 2013.
- E-cigarettes are difficult to classify because many different products qualify, such as disposable units and cartridges that can be inserted into a rechargeable “vape pen” (this type of smoking is often known as “vaping.”) “Declines in e-cigarette sales growth may reflect purchases shifting to ‘vape shops’ or online, rather than lower overall sales,” the authors note.
- The health consequences of the shift to e-cigarettes are mixed. “A majority of adult e-cigarette users report current cigarette smoking,” the authors report. “For adult smokers to benefit from e-cigarettes, they must completely quit combusted tobacco.”
- The changes to cigarette-sales trends — such as the increases in traditional cigarette sales in some places — could be the result of “coincident macroeconomic changes, such as declines in gasoline prices and increases in disposable personal income.”
This 2016 study in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine looks at national and state data on electronic cigarette sales.
The Treasury Department publishes monthly statistics on cigarette manufacturing and tobacco imports. At the Treasury Department, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) regulates tobacco and collects related taxes.
We wrote about the health effects and policy implications of e-cigarettes here.