Smokers are turning to cigars and “roll your own” tobacco to avoid the high cost of cigarettes, according to a new report by the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The decade-long trend has been most pronounced since the passage of a federal law that imposed higher taxes on cigarettes, but not on other forms of tobacco.
According to the report, published in the CDC journal Morbidity and Mortality Weekly, cigarette use between 2000 and 2011 decreased by nearly 33 percent, while the use of “noncigarette combustible products” increased 123% percent over the same period.
In the last three years alone, there was a 573% increase in consumption of pipe tobacco and a 233% increase in purchases of large cigars, both of which are taxed at a lower rate.
Under the Children’s Health Insurance Reauthorization Act of 2009, the federal tax on cigarettes was increased to $1.01 per pack. The same rate was imposed on small cigars and “roll-your-own” tobacco. However, larger cigars, pipe tobacco and smokeless tobacco were exempt from the higher rates. These “tax disparities” led to creative marketing by the tobacco industry, according to the CDC.
“Because loose tobacco products are classified based on how they are labeled, the loose tobacco tax disparity of $21.95 per pound led manufacturers to relabel roll-your-own tobacco as pipe tobacco and then market this relabeled pipe tobacco for roll-your-own use,” says the report.
The report adds that manufacturers also made minor increases in the weight of small cigars so they would be classified as “large” ones, resulting in a lower tax.
“The evidence that the increase in cigar and pipe tobacco use is the result of offering cigarette smokers a low-priced alternative product is a particular public health concern, because the morbidity and mortality rate of other forms of combustible tobacco are similar to those of cigarettes,” the CDC said.
Commenting on the CDC report, Matthew L. Myers, president, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, criticized tobacco companies for “undermining” the effort to reduce smoking deaths.
“By keeping the prices of these products low, tobacco companies are attracting kids and keeping smokers smoking,” said Myers, who called for the equalization of taxes on all tobacco products and for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to assert jurisdiction over all tobacco products.
“By regulating all tobacco products, the FDA can prevent tobacco companies from exploiting regulatory loopholes in the same way they have exploited tax disparities,” says Myers.
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