People nationally are smoking fewer cigarettes, but consumption of cheaper forms of tobacco is rising, especially among youth and young adults, according to a new report by the Centers for Disease Control.
While consumption of cigarettes decreased 32.8 percent from 2000 to 2011, consumption of loose tobacco and cigars increased 123.1 percent over the same years, according to the CDC.
The CDC noted that the upward trend in use of other forms of tobacco began after 2009, when federal taxes on cigarettes increased and made cigars and roll-your-own cheaper options.
Cigarette consumption declined 2.5 percent from 2010 to 2011, but the report noted that the increases in the use of “non-cigarette smoked tobacco products have slowed the decline in overall consumption of smoked tobacco products.”
“It’s a trend that could very well turn back all the progress that we’ve made,” said Patricia Checko, chairwoman of Mobilize Against Tobacco for Connecticut’s Health Coalition (MATCH).
In Connecticut, 4.6 percent of middle school students and 19.9 percent of high school students use some form of tobacco, according to the 2011 Connecticut School Health Survey. Cigars are rivaling cigarettes for popularity among youths. While 2.9 percent of middle school and 14 percent of high school students reported being cigarette smokers, 2.2 percent of middle school and 11.3 percent of high school students smoke cigars, according to the survey.
Adding flavorings like vanilla and chocolate makes cigars more attractive to young people, said Checko.
Cigars are not regulated by the Food the Drug Administration – even though Congress gave the FDA the authority to regulate the sale and marketing of tobacco products in 2009. A bill was introduced in the U.S. House in June to prevent the FDA from regulating some types of cigars.
The CDC report noted that the tobacco industry has created lower cost products in the face of rising cigarette taxes. For example, labeling tobacco that customers use to roll their own cigarettes as “pipe tobacco” excludes it from some taxes. Large cigars are taxed at a lower rate than small cigars. “As a result of relatively minor increases in per-unit weight, the new ‘large cigar’ can appear almost identical to a ‘small cigar,’ which resembles a typical cigarette and can cost as little as 7 cents per cigar,” the report says.
Smoke shops where customers roll their own cigarettes are now facing higher taxes, through an amendment to the federal transportation bill passed in July. In Connecticut, the General Assembly approved a bill in June that places higher fees and taxes on so-called “roll your own’’ tobacco shops. It new fees and taxes take effect Oct. 1.
The CDC report notes that tobacco use “remains the leading cause of preventable death and disease.”
Most research has focused on quitting cigarettes, according to Ellen Dornelas, a psychologist at Hartford Hospital’s Helen & Harry Gray Cancer Center. More studies need to be done into how to help smokers quit other forms of tobacco, said Dornelas.
“It’s certainly more difficult to measure,” she said. For example, a single cigar is the equivalent of eight cigarettes, said Dornelas.