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October 27, 2021
2 min to read

Why Did Cigarette Sales Rise in 2020 After Falling for 20 Years?

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Jim McDonald

For the first time in 20 years, cigarette sales increased in 2020. That’s the conclusion of a new Federal Trade Commission report published yesterday.

Americans bought 203.7 billion cigarettes (about 10.2 billion packs) last year—an increase of 800 million cigarettes, or 0.4 percent. That breaks down to an average of about 300 packs a year for each of the approximately 30 million people who smoke, or a little less than a pack a day each.

Mainstream news outlets have focused on the coronavirus pandemic as the primary reason for the increase, but a more likely cause is the decline of the U.S. vaping market in recent years. There are multiple factors that have led to vaping declines:

  • The spread of vaping misinformation and disinformation during the general post-2017 vaping moral panic
  • Fear caused by the 2019 “EVALI” lung injury outbreak, which was misattributed to nicotine vaping
  • Statewide flavored vape bans adopted in 2019 and 2020
  • Federal passage of the Tobacco 21 law
  • FDA guidance banning sales of flavored pod- and cartridge-based vapes
  • Many states imposing taxes on e-cigarettes and e-liquid
  • Vape business closures caused by sales losses and uncertainty over FDA regulations
  • Many of those factors led to price increases and reduced availability for vaping products. Economists have shown that cigarettes and vaping products are economic substitutes, meaning that a price increase in one causes a boost in sales of the other.

    Vape flavor bans may have similar effects. A paper published earlier this year showed that high school smoking increased when a ban on flavored e-cigarettes took effect in San Francisco in 2019.

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    Jim McDonald

    Vaping since: 12 years

    Favorite products:

    Favorite flavors: RY4-style tobaccos, fruits

    Expertise in: Political and legal challenges, tobacco control haters, moral panics

    Jim McDonald

    Smokers created vaping without help from the tobacco industry or anti-smoking crusaders, and I believe vapers have the right to continue innovating to help themselves. My goal is to provide clear, honest information about the challenges vaping faces from lawmakers, regulators, and brokers of disinformation. I’m a member of the CASAA board, but my opinions aren’t necessarily CASAA’s, and vice versa. You can find me on Twitter @whycherrywhy

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