The retail sector is witnessing the repercussions of a significant decline in cigarette consumption, which can be attributed to the mounting evidence linking smoking to severe health risks.

According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, the tobacco industry’s sales of cigarettes in the US dropped to under 11 billion packs in 2020 from more than 21 billion packs two decades ago.

This downward trend has created an existential crisis for retailers operating in the tobacco industry.

Producers’ struggle and emphasis on alternatives

Altria, the nation’s largest tobacco company and the parent company of Philip Morris US, reported a nearly 10% decline in cigarette sales compared to the previous year.

Acknowledging the changing dynamics, Altria is actively promoting the adoption of “reduced harm alternatives” such as e-cigarettes and heat-not-burn products to help smokers transition away from traditional cigarettes.

Altria’s strategic shift towards alternative products has sparked scepticism among industry observers. Despite the push for harm-reduction alternatives, cigarettes and cigars still constituted approximately 89% of the company’s sales last year.

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Critics question the company’s true commitment to diversifying its offerings and reducing its reliance on traditional tobacco products.

Assessing the safety and impact on retailers

The retail industry faces important considerations regarding the safety and impact of e-cigarettes and heat-not-burn products compared to traditional cigarettes. Retailers must navigate the question of whether these alternatives genuinely pose less harm to consumers.

There are also concerns about the influence of these products on younger individuals and their potential implications for retailers.

Evaluating the long-term effects and consequences of alternative smoking options is crucial for retailers in understanding market dynamics and addressing public health concerns.

The smoking trend in the UK

The smoking trend in the UK has shown a significant decline since 1974, with the proportion of adults smoking decreasing over time. In 1948, smoking rates among men were at their highest, with 82% of men smoking while women tended to smoke only cigarettes, with a prevalence of 41%.

However, by 2019, the proportion of the population who have never smoked increased to 60.4%. The decline in smoking rates is attributed to a combination of smokers quitting and a growing population of non-smokers.