Had Covid-19 never happened, global filter cigarette sales in 2020, by value, could be expected to be 8% higher than they will be, a difference of US$56bn to the industry, according to leading data and analytics company GlobalData.

For plain cigarettes, the disparity increased to 11%, and in niche categories like chewing tobacco, it rose as high as a 13% drop in expected sales.  As people quit for economic and health purposes during the pandemic, it will take several years for tobacco sales values to return to alignment with their predicted baseline figures.

GlobalData’s findings seem to corroborate what others, such as University College London, have found recently; a significant number of people have quit smoking during the pandemic. But why are they quitting? The two main themes are health and economics.

Health concerns have seen a reduction in cigarette sales

Health is an obvious reason for quitting, supported by many government and charitable organizations. GlobalData’s most-recent consumer survey (Covid-19 week 7 recovery consumer survey) found that only 14% of global consumers consider themselves ‘not concerned’ about their physical fitness and health, whereas over a quarter (26%) described themselves as extremely concerned.

As Covid-19 attacks the lungs, so many smokers have, at least temporarily, quit smoking to protect themselves. Evidence on smoking and its relationship with Covid-19 is complex and developing, but medical authorities typically advise that smokers have an increased risk of respiratory infection and more severe symptoms when infected, even if nicotine has some mitigating effect.

Depending on the country, some medical authorities, such as the UK’s NHS recommend a move to vaping to mitigate risk.

Financial worries a factor

GlobalData’s Covid-19 week 7 recovery consumer survey, combining answers “it will get a bit worse” and “it will get significantly worse” found that 44% of global consumers expect the economic situations in their countries to get worse. As recessions bite, consumers tend to try and save money wherever they can, and so quitting smoking may simply be a means to that end for many.

As lockdowns have closed pubs and clubs, many consumers, especially younger consumers, have lost the social settings in which they would usually smoke. Being forced to social distance and stay at home has reduced the social aspect of smoking among friends, and thus the product’s appeal.

The economic fallout from the pandemic and lockdowns has resulted in extremely high unemployment in a number of countries. For younger consumers, this often means that they’ve been forced to move back in with their parents and no longer have a personal space in which to smoke. Indeed, GlobalData also found that around 8% of global consumers intend to stop buying cigarette tobacco and tobacco alternatives as they are beyond their shopping budgets. Further analysis revealed that millennials were more likely than any other group to give this answer.

Despite the recorded increase in quitting, tobacco, especially cigarettes, remain big business and extremely profitable. Filter cigarettes remain the largest sellers, and in 2020 will account for a sales value of US$651bn, although it will be down from the baseline of US$707bn.