JUUL Popularity Drives Six Percent Decline In US Cigarette Sales

Steve Birr | Vice Reporter

A recent analysis of the U.S. tobacco industry reveals alternative smoking technologies, specifically the JUUL, are causing declines in cigarette sales to accelerate.

In what should be welcomed news for public health advocates and tobacco controllers, researchers at Citi are attributing a 6 percent decline in U.S. cigarette volumes in the first quarter of 2018 to the stratospheric rise of the JUUL e-cigarette. The JUUL is a slim device that closely mimics the nicotine experience of a cigarette while significantly slashing the harms from combustible tobacco. The devices are solely intended for adult smokers trying to quit combustible tobacco.

JUUL emerged as a powerhouse in the vapor market in 2017, and the device currently represent 54.6 percent of sales in the industry. Citi analysts, citing data from Nielsen, argue a sharp acceleration in sales for JUUL in the fourth quarter of 2017 and continuing into 2018 is directly responsible for falling cigarette volumes.

The researchers conclude that, “U.S. cigarettes face new risks from JUUL.”

“U.S. cigarette volumes seem to have fallen faster than we had expected,” the Citi analysts said in the report. “We think the best explanation is the sudden acceleration in the growth of JUUL which occurred around October / November 2017.”

They note that “cigarette volumes may get worse,” due to the efforts of large companies like Altria and Imperial Tobacco to compete with the JUUL. Both companies have released similarly designed pod-based nicotine systems they hope will prove popular with adult smokers trying to quit.

The adult smoking rate fell from 15.8 percent in 2016 to 14.1 percent over the first nine months of 2017 — a significant decline many argue vapor products are accelerating. Despite the significant progress made on reducing U.S. smoking rates with the aid of alternative technologies, lawmakers and health regulators continue to demonize vaping.

They are particularly focused on teen use of the JUUL, which officials are increasingly using as justification for blanket and crushing regulation of the vaping industry by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (RELATED: Anti-Tobacco Groups Sue FDA Over Vape Ban Timing. But Why?)

Democratic Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin and 10 colleagues sent a letter to JUUL CEO Kevin Burns and the FDA that claims JUUL is, “undermining our nation’s efforts to reduce tobacco use among youth.” Perhaps the group of senators is unaware, but as vaping grows, both adult and youth smoking rates continue to fall to historic lows.

The U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse and the University of Michigan’s annual Monitoring the Future Survey, released Dec. 14, 2017, shows reported cigarette use among 12th graders fell to 4.2 percent in 2016 — down from 24.6 percent in 1997 — even as the number of youth experimenting with vaping devices increased.

A recent study, by renowned tobacco researchers Dr. Konstantinos Farsalinos of the Onassis Cardiac Surgery Centre in Greece and Dr. Riccardo Polosa of the University of Catania in Italy, found regular use of electronic cigarettes is “rare” among youths who do not smoke.

The quit rate of American smokers jumped from 4.5 percent between 2010 and 2011 to 5.6 percent between 2014 and 2015, according to a University of California study released July 26, 2017 — a statistically significant increase attributed to growing vaping popularity.

With declines in cigarette volumes accelerating amid the success of vaping brands like JUUL, regulators should reconsider their adversarial attitude towards the products. Public health experts focused on harm reduction say the misinformed crusade against e-cigarettes risks undoing the gains made in reducing smoking prevalence in America.

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