(CBS News) Cigarette sales may be down, but another rising trend in tobacco use has the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concerned.
According to information released in an August 3 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), adults are buying fewer tobacco products overall. From 2000 to 2011, total consumption of all combustible tobacco products - which includes cigarettes, roll-your-own tobacco, pipe tobacco, and small and large cigars - decreased from 450.7 billion cigarette equivalents - the amount of tobacco in a standard cigarette - to 326.6 cigarette equivalents, a 27.5 percent decrease. Pre-manufactured cigarettes lead the fold with a 32.8 percent decrease in that time period.
However, consumption of loose tobacco (used in "roll your own" cigarettes and pipes) and cigars increased 123.1 percent in that 11-year span. The share of the market consuming these products went from 3.4 percent in 2000 to a whopping 10.4 percent in 2011. One big part of the increase has been the resurgence of people smoking pipe tobacco, which went up 482.1 percent in the time period. Roll-your-own cigarettes actually went down from 10.7 billion cigarette equivalents to 2.6 billion, whereas pipe-tobacco smokers went up from 2.6 billion to 17.5 billion cigarette equivalents.
"This analysis shows that cigarette consumption continues to decline in the United States, a trend that has persisted since the 1960s," wrote the editors of the report. "However, recent changes in consumption patterns, particularly increases in large cigar and pipe tobacco use, have resulted in a slowing of the decline in consumption of all combustible tobacco, and indicate that certain cigarette smokers have switched to using lower-taxed non-cigarette combustible products."
Accounting for all these changes in tobacco consumption, combustible tobacco use went down only 0.8 percent from 2010 to 2011.
The CDC hypothesized that the increase may be due to additional taxes on cigarettes, especially the 2009 federal tobacco excise tax.
"Because loose tobacco products are classified based on how they are labeled, the loose tobacco tax disparity of $21.95 per pound led manufacturers to relabel roll-your-own tobacco as pipe tobacco and then market this relabeled pipe tobacco for roll-your-own use," the editors wrote.
Similarly in a recent report, Altria, parent company of tobacco-maker Philip Morris USA, reported a 1.5 percent decline in cigarette sales and a 7.6 percent increase in smokeless tobacco sales during the second quarter of 2012, which was not included during the CDC study period.
The American Council on Science and Health, a consumer advocacy organization, sees both results as a positive trend, saying that less cigarette sales and a decline in general could also mean that people are quitting or deciding to use non-combustable forms of tobacco, which are slightly healthier. They also pointed out that more needs to be done to help people who want to quit smoking.
"This is a hugely important trend," ACSH's Dr. Elizabeth Whelan said on the official website.
"Hopefully this is a harbinger of an ongoing, accelerated decline in cigarette use as tobacco harm reduction methods become more known, accepted, and utilized by the 46 million U.S. smokers, who are crying out for help in quitting," she added.