Executives at Marlboro maker Altria Group Inc. pointed to the trends Tuesday and said they have been significant enough to slow the yearslong decline in U.S. cigarette sales. Altria now expects U.S. cigarette unit sales to fall by 2% to 3.5% this year compared with its previous projection of a 4%-to-6% decline.

Pandemic lockdowns have meant fewer social outings and more time to smoke at home, Altria Chief Executive Billy Gifford said. Though unemployment rates are high, stimulus checks and increased unemployment benefits have helped ease the financial hardship for low- and middle-income cigarette smokers, he added. Adult cigarette smokers are making fewer trips to the store, but they are stocking up on packs when they do go.

“Fewer social engagements allow for more tobacco-use occasions,” Mr. Gifford told analysts on an earnings call Tuesday. The company’s Marlboro brand accounts for 43% of all cigarettes sold in the U.S.