Cigarette sales in America last year increased for the first time in two decades, according to a new report from the Federal Trade Commission. This was only a slight increase of 0.4% – the total number of cigarettes sold to wholesalers and retailers nationwide increased by about 8 million, from 202.9 billion in 2019 to 203.7 billion in 2020.
But it marks a surprise reversal of a long-standing downtrend.
Smoking rates among American adults have been declining since 2000 and now stand at about 14%, according to the North American Quitline Association, a nonprofit that promotes smoking cessation services.
The group attributes the steady decline to tobacco taxes and smoke-free air laws, as well as the increasing use of programs such as stop lines. But during the pandemic, fewer smokers took advantage of these services, the group said in a report earlier this year, citing “the stress and anxiety resulting from the pandemic.”
Experts say the increased isolation, stress and uncertainty have created a perfect storm for substance use disorders.
Altria, which makes Marlboro cigarettes, noted in a recent earnings call that the 2020 lockdowns saw Americans “adding nicotine opportunities to their day.” Smokers are also returning to traditional cigarettes from vaping devices in response to restrictions on flavors from e-cigarettes, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Altria (Shares of are up 16% so far this year. )