Before the pandemic, U.S. cigarette unit sales had been falling at an accelerating rate, hitting 5.5% in 2019, as smokers quit or switched to alternatives like e-cigarettes. The pandemic put the brakes on that slide. In 2020, the U.S. cigarette industry’s unit sales were flat compared to the previous year, according to data released Thursday by Marlboro maker Altria Group Inc.
People had more opportunities to smoke because they spent more time at home and had more money to spend on cigarettes because they spent less on gas, travel and entertainment, Altria said. They drank more liquor, too, buoying spirits makers.
At the same time, some e-cigarette users turned back to combustible cigarettes because of increased e-cigarette taxes, bans on flavored vaping products and confusion about the health effects of vaping, consumers and industry officials say. Altria on Thursday didn’t offer a projection for cigarette sales in 2021, saying it would depend in part on the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine and how consumers’ behavior changes after they are vaccinated.