Despite public health advice that smoking increases the risk of severe illness from Covid-19, tobacco sales around the world have received a boost during the pandemic, reports Reuters.
In recent weeks, Philip Morris International, Japan Tobacco, Imperial Brands and Altria Group all raised their sales or profit targets, saying the industry had done better than expected, mostly in the United States and Europe. Imperial said staying home in the pandemic gave people more chances to smoke and more cash to spend.
Smokers, meanwhile, cite a combination of anxiety, boredom, stress and the unexpected freedoms of social isolation as reasons for lighting up more.
While overall tobacco sales continue to fall, the speed of decline has slowed in many markets.
For example, in the United States tobacco sales by volume fell 2 percent in the eight months to Oct. 24, according to Nielsen data. That’s smaller than an average drop of just over 3 percent in the previous two years.
Slowing U.S. sales of e-cigarettes also have benefitted conventional smokes. E-cigarettes rose only 2 percent over the period versus about 70 percent on average in the previous two years, a development that is commonly attributed to last year’s Evali crisis and a U.S. government ban on most flavors in pre-filled nicotine cartridges. Conventional cigarette sales in the U.S. also benefited from cheaper gasoline.
British American Tobacco told Reuters its U.S. cigarette performance had been helped by government stimulus payments, which have boosted disposable incomes, as well as working from home and consumers stocking up on necessities.
Tobacco firms also cite reduced international travel, which has boosted domestic sales in some countries, and tighter border controls, which reduced cigarette smuggling.
In some markets, tobacco companies also benefited from exceptions to lockdown orders. France, Italy and Spain deemed tobacconists “essential,” allowing them to remain open even as other business had to close shop. In the United States and Britain, tobacco was on sale in stores that sell other necessities such as groceries.