By RONI CARYN RABIN of the New York Times
Published: August 2, 2012
Fewer Americans are smoking cigarettes, but a growing number are turning to cigarettelike cigars that can sell for as little as seven cents apiece or to making cigarettes from inexpensive loose tobacco labeled for pipe use, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Thursday.
Sales of these other forms of tobacco — which are taxed at significantly lower rates than both cigarettes and tobacco specifically labeled “roll your own” — have soared in recent years, the C.D.C. said. The amount of loose pipe tobacco sold in 2011 was enough to make 17.5 billion cigarettes, a sixfold increase over the amount sold in 2008.
Meanwhile, sales of loose tobacco specifically labeled for roll-your-own use and taxed at higher rates dropped by 75 percent during the same four-year period.
“While consumption patterns of traditional cigarettes have continued to decline, when we take into account these alternative cigarettelike products, we’re seeing a lack of change in the overall consumption of burned tobacco that is being inhaled,” said Terry Pechacek, associate director for science with the C.D.C. Office on Smoking and Health in Atlanta and one of the report’s authors.
Overall consumption dropped by less than 1 percent in 2011 from 2010, he said.
Meanwhile, sales of large cigars more than doubled from 2008 to 2011, after manufacturers increased the weight of certain small cigars, enabling them to be classified as large cigars, which are taxed at a lower rate than small cigars and cigarettes, a C.D.C. commentary noted.
From 2008 to 2011, the number of small cigars sold dropped to fewer than a billion from 5.9 billion, while sales of large cigars rose to 12.9 billion from 5.7 billion.
The lower prices of these alternative products are particularly appealing to young people, for whom cost is a significant deterrent to smoking, said Michael Tynan, a public health analyst with the C.D.C. and one of the authors of the report. A recent youth risk behavior survey found that 37 percent of male high school seniors use some form of tobacco.
The labeling changes also enable the products to be laced with fruit and other flavorings that are banned for use in cigarettes and appeal to young smokers, he said. “These products are labeled differently, but in all ways they’re smoked and used as cigarettes,” he said. “People buy them at convenience stores that have machines that roll them into cigarettes with filters.”
The increased popularity of loose pipe tobacco, which is often marketed now for dual use, and of the cigarettelike large cigars seems to be directly related to a 2009 increase in the federal tobacco excise tax, which made pipe tobacco far less expensive than roll-your-own tobacco, and large cigars less heavily taxed than small cigars and cigarettes. The difference in taxes for the two types of loose tobacco is $21.95 per pound, which led manufacturers to relabel roll-your-own tobacco as pipe tobacco, while marketing it for roll-your-own use.
In addition, the Food and Drug Administration regulations that bar adding flavoring to tobacco and using labels like “light” or “low tar” do not apply to cigars and pipe tobacco, C.D.C. officials noted.
The Government Accountability Office has recommended changing the federal tobacco excise taxes to eliminate the differential taxation.
A version of this article appeared in print on August 3, 2012, on page A10 of the National edition with the headline: Big Cigars Offer Way For Smokers To Save.