IT is acknowledged that the ripple effects of coronavirus and lockdown on mental health and wellbeing will be felt for generations. Now new data reveals that for the first time in a decade, cigarette sales did not fall, intensifying concerns over the health impacts of lockdown smoking.


What do the figures show?

Prior to the pandemic, cigarette sales and the number of people recorded as smokers had been consistently falling over the years around the world, but data released by tobacco giant, Marlboro maker Altria Group, has revealed that unit sales of cigarettes in the US remained steady in 2019, bucking the downward trend of the previous decade.


In some parts of the world, sales rose?

Sales of cigarettes in South Korea were up 4.1 per cent last year. South Korean smokers purchased 3.59 billion 20-cigarette packs in 2020, compared with 3.45 billion packs in 2019, according to the country’s Ministry of Economy and Finance.


What’s the explanation?

The pandemic is being pointed to. Altria said that with being in lockdown, smokers had more opportunities to light up and had more money to spend on cigarettes - and drink more alcohol - because they were no longer spending on travel or entertainment.



Altria also said that some e-cigarette users switched back to cigarettes in the US because of a range of health concerns, increased e-cigarette taxes and bans on some flavoured vaping products. In the United States, 9.8 million people aged 21 and over vaped in 2020, down from 2019 when the number rose to 11.8 million.


Smoking can put you at more risk from the virus?

Warnings have been issued that being a current or former smoker raises a person's risk of severe illness from Covid-19, but there has not yet been a full study on how smokers are worse affected. The US Centers for Disesase Control (CDC) say that in America, cigarette smoking is responsible for more than 480,000 deaths per year. UK group Ash (Action on smoking and health) say that tobacco is in fact the leading cause of preventable death in the world, killing more than 7 million people each year.


But “lockdown stress” is playing a part?

A Food and Drug Administration (FDA) spokeswoman said the stress the pandemic has caused to people across the US - from health concerns to job losses and the mental impact of lockdowns - could have contributed to fewer people quitting smoking. She said: “Covid-19 has created a drastic change in daily life, including increased stress and anxiety, that may contribute to a smaller-than-expected reduction in cigarette sales.”


Firms are refocusing on cigarettes?

Imperial Brands told the FT last week that it is refocusing on cigarettes, with the company's new chief executive saying it had been a "neglected" sector as the UK tobacco firm became "overly focused" on vaping. Stefan Bomhard said Imperial will now target cigarette sales in the UK, Spain, Germany, Australia and America. 


As for the year ahead…

Altria said that it would not make a prediction for the industry’s immediate future amid the ongoing global uncertainty. In an earnings conference call, it said: “Looking ahead, we expect 2021 cigarette industry volume trends to be most influenced by smoker’s stay-at-home practices, unemployment rates, fiscal stimulus, cross category movement, the timing and breadth of COVID-19 vaccine deployment and consumer purchasing behaviour following the vaccine.”