Driven by cost considerations and growing environmental awareness, do-it-yourself cigarette papers continue to gain popularity.
By Stefanie Rossel
Traditionally, roll-your-own (RYO) products thrive in difficult economic periods, and for the time being, it appears, the challenges won’t cease. As the Covid-19 pandemic ebbed, the world was shaken by war in Ukraine, worsening inflation and cost-of-living crises in many countries. Since October, global stability and confidence has been further eroded by the war between Israel and Hamas.
The economic slump means that many consumers are coping with lower disposable incomes. Among smokers, such a development often encourages a shift from factory-made cigarettes to more affordable RYO or make-your-own (MYO) products.
Market research companies are hence upbeat about the rolling papers market. Future Market Insights (FMI), for example, expects the value of the global cigarette paper market to grow from $714 million in 2023 to $1.19 billion by 2033, registering a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.2 percent during that period. “The rising popularity of smoking rolled cigarettes along with an increasing number of states legalizing recreational cannabis are the key factors expected to augment the demand for rolling papers,” the report states. The U.S., where 24 states permit recreational cannabis use, accounts for 16.9 percent of the global rolling papers market.
In emerging economies, meanwhile, growing demand for rolling tobacco is creating opportunities for manufacturers to expand their footprints in untapped markets, FMI writes. In some of these countries, restrictions on reduced-risk products also play a role. India, for instance, which banned vape products in 2019, is predicted to witness a CAGR of 6.9 percent in sales of rolling papers through 2033.
Careful Navigation Needed
The global rolling papers market is dominated by several large players. Lately, however, smaller entrants to the category have been offering niche or novelty products in terms of sizes, colors and ingredients.
“In general, we see an upward trend in the global market for rolling papers being driven by increasing preference for hand-rolled tobacco due to the value offer they provide compared to factory-made cigarettes as well as the rise in prominence for more environmentally friendly and innovative products,” notes Jose Rubiralta, global manager of Rizla, which is part of Imperial Brands. “For Rizla specifically, the more recent negative global developments mentioned bear limited impact. We are actively expanding our presence in different markets to build on our position as the world’s most iconic rolling paper brand.”
Santiago Sanchez, executive president of France-based Republic Technologies Group, which is best known for its OCB, Zig-Zag and JOB brands, says that the Covid-19 pandemic had boosted his company’s sales. The more recent series of crises has made it difficult to find shipping vessels, however. It has also boosted inflation and caused a scarcity of raw materials. “I usually say that our products sell better during a crisis—and this is what is happening—though I personally regret very much the suffering of so many people in the present wars.”
Republic has been doing well in its core markets. “Besides, we see an opportunity in new markets, mainly on the American continent,” says Sanchez. “This is not yet linked very much to the RYO tobacco expansion but the depenalization of certain substances such as cannabis that were prosecuted until recently.”
For Xavier Garcia, commercial director of the RYO division at Miquel y Costas, the geopolitical challenges pose new hurdles that require careful navigation. “While we celebrate the positive impact of changing consumer habits, we must remain vigilant in the face of geopolitical complexities. The challenges are formidable, but they present opportunities for innovation and strategic adaptation.”
Smoking Paper, Miquel y Costas’ rolling paper brand that will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2024, currently experiences significant growth in various markets. “The growth of the brand is something transversal and not specific to just a few markets,” says Garcia, who attributes its growing popularity of RYO and MYO products to shortages of affordable cigarettes and higher taxation of factory-made products, among other factors.
More Regulatory Hurdles
The next challenge for tobacco-related rolling papers will be regulation, according to Sanchez. “We have the intrusion of the politicians with constant new regulations,” he says. “We will see what happens with the revision of the European Union Tobacco Products Directive and new laws trying to overregulate [the industry] such as [those] trying to have tobacco-free generations and forbidding filters.”
Another challenge comes from the EU Single-Use Plastics Directive (SUPD), which entered into force in 2021 and bans the sale of single-use plastic items such as plates, cutlery, straws and plastic/cotton bud sticks as well as food containers and expanded polystyrene cups. The law exempts cigarette filters but will oblige tobacco manufacturers to cover the costs of consumer awareness-raising measures and extended producer responsibility schemes tackling the cleanup of litter and its subsequent transport and treatment and other issues starting this December.
“While personally I have always been a great defender of the environment, I would have preferred a smoother application of the directive,” he points out. “The commission has not fulfilled its own timetable and now, in November, we still do not know about taxes to be paid next year, especially considering that some will be retroactive to 2023. Once again, the pressure for the smaller manufacturers is enormous and disproportionate.”
Whether driven by regulation or other factors, eco-friendliness is a major trend in rolling papers, according to Rubiralta. “In line with key consumer trends in the broader fast-moving consumer goods industry, there is a growing demand for more environmentally sustainable products,” he says. “As part of our ongoing efforts, we are actively exploring strategies to reduce the impact to the environment. This includes different product and packaging initiatives of Rizla products, amongst other contributions.
“This summer, for example, we have introduced our Natura filter tips as well as our plastic-free tips in selected markets, such as Greece. This is our first plastic-free tips range, made with biodegradable paper, which is a milestone that our team takes great pride in. This complements our recent environmentally friendly paper launches of Rizla Classic, which are unbleached papers, Natura hemp papers and our innovative Rizla Bamboo papers offer, which have received favorable consumer responses.”
Sanchez’s experience is similar. “We see that consumers ask for new products that are more environmentally friendly,” he says. “For centuries, our industry has used flax and hemp as fibers to produce rolling cigarette paper. Different fibers are now in demand, such as bamboo and rice. There is a preference of some people for rice paper, a raw material that was used many years ago to produce paper. With the improvement of paper technology, these fibers were abandoned because of their fragility. Many products still claim to be ‘rice paper,’ although they’re not made of rice. Republic has gone back to the origins, and it is now producing a special blend of rice plus organic hemp paper, which is the only product in the market containing real rice.”
Several months ago, Republic Technologies introduced the first bagged filter paper. The company is also reviewing all its packaging to remove plastic wherever possible. “Most of our boxes are no longer plastic-wrapped but they still can guarantee the freshness of the product,” says Sanchez. “We have never been fans of closing devices such as magnets because we feel it goes against the environmental target, so we have developed a new way to close some of our booklets just with a paper flap.”
In addition to natural papers and innovative materials, demand is also shifting toward larger paper formats and more advanced products, such as thinner papers, according to Rubiralta. Convenience is a big driver as well. “Adult smokers increasingly seek all-in-one packaging solutions, rather than making multiple separate purchases,” he says. “In response, we are placing a strong emphasis on our combi-packs, expanding our product offerings, and ensuring that this product is readily available to our key customers where this format is relevant.” The company launched its combi-packs of papers and paper filters in the U.K. this year.
“Customers are steering the industry toward a future marked by sustainability, exploration of materials and a demand for convenient solutions,” confirms Montse Bonjorn, director of marketing of Miquel y Costas’ RYO division. “At Miquel y Costas, we’re not merely observing these trends; we’re actively shaping the future of smoking experiences in alignment with our customers’ evolving preferences.”
The company recently introduced a range of eco-friendly, biodegradable paper filters. “As part of our commitment to setting new industry standards, we are set to launch Smoking Supreme, a product that transcends the ordinary,” she says. “Crafted with meticulous attention to detail, this new rolling paper is characterized by its feather-light weight of 12 grams and an ultra-soft surface texture—a harmonious blend for a supreme smoking experience.”
In 2021, the company launched Smoking Cones, a collection of pre-rolled cones crafted in a unique spiral design, a layout that requires less paper and glue to manufacture.
Potential for Growth
Cannabis is playing an ever more important role for rolling papers manufacturers. As further legalization of recreational cannabis is expected in the U.S. and Europe, Sanchez expects demand for RYO papers to increase. “We have developed a patented system to infuse CBD in the natural gum used in the papers. These new products are now available under the Roor trademark that the group acquired a few years ago. Moreover, we have developed a new slim paper, including tips with a length of 125 mm, for the cannabis market.”
“While global trends indicate a surge in cannabis-related products, our focus remains on identifying markets with the greatest potential,” Bonjorn explains. “Regions where cannabis legalization or cultural acceptance is on the rise are particularly promising. Latin America, North America and parts of Europe are among the regions showing considerable potential for growth.”
Miquel y Costas is actively navigating the evolving dynamics of the cannabis market. The company, says Garcia, is ready to contribute innovative solutions to cater to the evolving needs of cannabis enthusiasts. “As we anticipate developments, our strategic approach includes identifying markets where the potential for growth aligns with our commitment to quality and innovation,” he says.