Story at a glance

  • In 2020, cigarette sales were up for the first time over the last 20 years.
  • Stress may have been a significant driver of new cigarette sales.
  • Altria Group, cigarette maker for Marlboro, reported a 9 percent increase in sales during its second quarter in 2020.

For the first time in two decades, domestic sales of cigarettes increased — and stress from the pandemic could be the reason why. 

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released its Cigarette Report for 2020 and found that manufacturers sold 203.7 billion units of cigarettes last year. That’s a .4 percent increase from 2019 and the first increase the FTC has seen in the last 20 years. 

The FTC released a separate report on smokeless tobacco, known as vape pens or e-cigarettes, and found an increase in 2020 as well. Manufacturers sold 126.83 million pounds of smokeless tobacco to wholesalers and retailers in 2020, compared to 125.98 million pounds in 2019.

Erica Sward, assistant vice president of advocacy for the American Lung Association, told The Washington Post that the increase in sales was likely due to people who had quit smoking but picked the habit back up again during the pandemic. Sward noted that the biggest driver of relapses is stress. 


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Data suggests that stress has played a significant role in Americans' lives over the last year, with the American Psychological Association’s annual survey of Stress in America for 2020 revealing 78 percent of adults say the pandemic is a significant source of stress in their life, and 67 percent say they have "experienced increased stress over the course of the pandemic." 

“We are facing a national mental health crisis that could yield serious health and social consequences for years to come,” said the APA in a statement. 

Those health consequences could be reflected in the FTC’s latest report, as well as cigarette companies’ recent successes.

The Altria Group, cigarette maker for Marlboro, reported a nearly 9 percent increase in net revenues in its second quarter and 4 percent in its third quarter in 2020.

According to The Post, during a 2020 earnings call, Altria Group told investors that, “fewer social engagements allow for more tobacco-use occasions.” 


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Published on Oct 27, 2021