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Non-cigarette tobacco use soars, new study finds

Jacob Smith
by Jacob Smith | News

5 March 2024

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Several types of non-cigarette tobacco, including cigars, cigarillos and a pipe
Shutterstock - rawf8

Whilst overall prevalence is still low, there are around five times more people exclusively smoking non-cigarette tobacco in England now than there were a decade ago, according to a study funded by Cancer Research UK. 

Non-cigarette tobacco products include cigars, cigarillos, pipes, and shisha. 

The paper, published today in Nicotine and Tobacco Research, has estimated that in September 2013, there were around 151,200 exclusive non-cigarette tobacco users, but by September 2023, this figure had soared to around 772,800.  

Strikingly, the researchers from University College London (UCL) found that the greatest increase was seen in young adults. 

No safe tobacco products

Currently, tobacco causes around 54,300 cases of cancer every year in the UK.* It’s the one legal consumer product that will kill most users when used as intended by the manufacturer. 

The charity warned that smoking non-cigarette tobacco can cause many types of cancer, including lung, mouth and upper throat, oesophageal, larynx and stomach cancers. They may also be linked with pancreatic, bladder and liver cancers.  

Cancer Research UK said that there has been a rise in the exclusive use of these products since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.   

“This 10-year long study captures the shift in trends of non-cigarette tobacco use and paints a concerning picture,” said Dr Sarah Jackson, principal research fellow at UCL’s Institute of Epidemiology and Health. 

“Although rates of cigarette smoking have fallen, our data show there has been a sharp rise in use of other smoked tobacco products, particularly among young people.   

“It’s vital that smoking cessation services are adequately funded and available across the UK, so that the around 772,800 people who use non-cigarette tobacco products, and the millions who use cigarettes, are given the support they need to quit.” 

What’s behind the increase?

Possible causes for the increase included widespread concern about cigarette smoking worsening coronavirus symptoms, so people may have switched to products they perceived as being less harmful.  

Financial difficulties may have also caused people to switch from cigarettes to cheaper options, researchers concluded.  

In addition, the menthol cigarette ban in May 2020 didn’t apply to non-cigarette tobacco products, so those who prefer this flavour may have switched to other products that were not included in the ban.   

The charity says this is why it’s vital the upcoming age of sale legislation applies to all products that contain tobacco, so that the same loopholes aren’t created again.  

The UK Government is expected to present legislation to Parliament to increase the age of sale of tobacco products, which will mean anyone born on or after January 1st 2009 will never be able to legally be sold tobacco products.   

“Tobacco kills one person every five minutes in the UK,” said Dr Ian Walker, executive director of policy and information at Cancer Research UK. 

“Research like this shows that the issue of smoking isn’t just about cigarettes – all tobacco products are harmful and cause cancer, no matter what form they come in. 

“That’s why it’s crucial that the Government’s age of sale legislation applies to all tobacco products. If implemented, this policy will be a vital step towards creating a smokefree UK, preventing future generations from ever becoming addicted to tobacco.” 

*Source: Brown, et al. (2018).

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