Cigarette volumes appear to rise during pandemic, raising concerns about combustible tobacco use among adults
Brought to you by Bidi Vapor, LLC
Stakeholders on both sides of the e-cigarette debate were surprised by reports of increasing cigarette sales during the pandemic, with several moderate voices calling for a new focus on adult smokers.
In terms of numbers, historic declines in combustible cigarette volumes appear to have plateaued, according to major U.S. tobacco companies. Before the pandemic, annual declines in cigarette volumes were between 5%-6%. Those declines slowed dramatically in the latter part of 2020 and going into 2021, according to some industry reports, potentially due to pandemic lockdowns, as well as confusion among adult smokers about e-cigarettes, as a result of increased scrutiny, state bans, and negative media attention regarding flavors and youth use. Over the past year, Richmond, Va.-based Altria Group, which makes the No. 1-selling Marlboro brand, said cigarette volumes industry-wide were flat, essentially translating to a rise of 5%-6% when compared to historic trends. In its last quarter of 2020, Altria told investors its cigarette volumes were up 3.1%.
The trend caused several tobacco harm reduction advocates to speak out. One such voice, Cliff Douglas, who had worked with the American Cancer Society, wrote an opinion piece in March saying: “Efforts to marginalize or even eradicate e-cigarettes in order to protect kids is now leading to more smoking than otherwise would have occurred.”
Manufacturers of e-cigarettes who are committed to providing adult smokers with viable options to combustible tobacco products welcome the evolving perspectives. “While the primary public health concern has necessarily focused on keeping vapor products and e-cigarettes out of the hands of youth, the rise in cigarette sales is making clear that we should not forget about the adult smoker, 21 and older, and what their needs are,” said Niraj Patel, president and CEO of Bidi Vapor, LLC, Melbourne, Fla.
Patel points to flavors in particular, citing both internal and external data saying that more than half of adult smokers who transitioned to vapor products and the same number who both smoke and vape have tried e-cigarettes because of flavors. “Our data demonstrates that flavors play a big role in helping adult smokers 21 and over seek alternatives to combustible cigarettes,” Patel said.
At the same time, Patel emphasized that Bidi Vapor is “strongly opposed” to all underage tobacco use, including e-cigarettes. One of the best ways to limit minors using vaping products is to address the issue of access, he said. Bidi Vapor supported lawmakers who in 2019 raised the minimum age to buy tobacco products to 21, he said. “We completely support raising the tobacco-buying age and other laws, such as the PACT Act, regulating online purchasing,” Patel said, referring to the Preventing Online Sales of E-Cigarettes to Children Act that became law with the 2020 COVID legislation. “But we have to find a balance: Keep e-cigarettes out of the hands of youth, while still focusing on the needs of the adult smoker.”
Beyond flavors, Patel believes that device quality is another way to provide a viable option to combustible tobacco products. Key design elements of Bidi Vapor products help adult smokers experience a consistent puff while using the BIDI® Stick e-cigarette. He says internal studies have shown a 90% satisfaction level of survey participants who have tried the BIDI® Stick.
“Without going into anything proprietary, the vision we had for the BIDI® Stick from the very beginning had to do with providing that premium experience for adults,” Patel said. “That’s how we meet the needs of the adult smoker, while doing everything we can to prevent youth access and appeal of our products.”