COVID-19 Lockdowns Spark Biggest Cigarette Sales Spike In Years

During the first months of quarantine, when nobody really had any idea when they'd next be seeing their colleagues again, reporters churned out stories about people walking, jogging, or otherwise exercising to try and squeeze out a little endorphin boost, while also helping to prepare one's body for the worst-case scenario.

But as the months dragged on, it appears Americans turned to a quick buzz, as rates of drinking alcohol, using drugs, and smoking cigarettes climbed. As WSJ reports, 2020 was the first year in decades that cigarette use among Americans increased, instead of declining.

In the US, cigarette sales topped sales from five years' ago when many consumers switched back to cigarettes after trying first-generation vaping devices. Before the pandemic, cigarette sales had been falling at an accelerating rate. Sales declined by 5.5% in 2019. But in 2020, the trend suddenly reversed, and sales were flat.

The reasons for the spike in cigarette sales aren't too difficult to deduce: Being stuck at home gave people more opportunities to smoke, while the inability to go out and see and meet people essentially forced them to save money on gas, travel, and entertainment, which they could then spend on cigarettes.

The Virginia-based tobacco and cigarette company, Altria Group Inc (MO), posted an EPS of $1.03 (or 99 cents per share on an adjusted basis). That’s a couple cents shy of what Wall Street had expected. Still, cigarettes outperformed many other consumer products, and sales in 2020 were even stronger than in 2015, when a drop in gas prices gave consumers more discretionary money to play around with.

Despite the success in cigarette sales during the prior 12 months, Altria didn’t offer a projection for cigarette sales in 2021, saying Thursday that it would depend in part on the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine.

E-cigarette sales, however, were booming by the fall of 2019 as the popularity of the Juul vaporizer, which caught on among teens and got a whole new generation of Americans hooked, were blamed for reviving the practice, especially in the US. But many of those same users have apparently now made the switch to cigarettes.

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