Gen Z smoking tobacco pipes and cigars as government plans cigarette ban - and health bosses are worried

Sales of cigars and pipes have soared in the UK as the government moves to outlaw cigarettes. (Picture: Adobe Stock)Sales of cigars and pipes have soared in the UK as the government moves to outlaw cigarettes. (Picture: Adobe Stock)
Sales of cigars and pipes have soared in the UK as the government moves to outlaw cigarettes. (Picture: Adobe Stock) | WavebreakMediaMicro -
Cancer experts have warned that this "loophole" could have serious health implications for young people.

Generation Z is exploiting a "serious loophole" as the government looks to ban cigarettes.

A study from University College London (UCL) has found a surge in people smoking cigars, pipes and other non-cigarette tobacco products, to the grave concern of cancer experts. Cancer Research UK warned that all products containing tobacco - including shishas and cigarillos - are harmful and increase the risk of developing cancer.

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Researchers from (UCL) found that just 0.36 per cent of the population were exclusive non-cigarette tobacco users in 2013, which rose to 1.68 per cent in 2023. This means that in 2022/23, around one in 10 smokers used non-cigarette tobacco, as per the study of almost 200,000 adults in England.

The authors of the study said that the rise in non-cigarette tobacco smokers from 2020 onwards was "most pronounced among younger adults" compared to older ages.

"This pattern of results may reflect greater exploration of different products among younger adults," they wrote. "Over the same period when exclusive non-cigarette tobacco smoking increased, there was also a marked increase in vaping among adolescents and young adults, which may have prompted experimentation with other nicotine products."

Cancer Research UK said that this could have occurred because of concerns about cigarette smoking worsening coronavirus symptoms, so people may have switched to products they believed to be less harmful. Financial difficulties may have also caused people to switch from cigarettes to cheaper options, it added.

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The government has pledged to create the "first smoke-free generation" and will introduce legislation so children born on or after 1 January 2009 will never be legally sold tobacco. The charity has called on ministers to ensure that its new age of sale legislation will include all tobacco products.

Dr Ian Walker, Cancer Research UK’s executive director of policy, said: "Tobacco kills one person every five minutes in the 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."

The number of people quitting smoking dropped significantly when the Covid-19 pandemic struck. (Picture: Adobe Stock)The number of people quitting smoking dropped significantly when the Covid-19 pandemic struck. (Picture: Adobe Stock)
The number of people quitting smoking dropped significantly when the Covid-19 pandemic struck. (Picture: Adobe Stock) | Adobe Stock

Dr Sarah Jackson, lead author of the paper and principal research fellow at UCL’s Institute of Epidemiology and Heath, added: "This 10-year-long study captures the shift in trends of non-cigarette tobacco use and paints a concerning picture. 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.

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"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."

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of the charity Action on Smoking and Health (Ash), said: "The largest single non-cigarette product category is cigars, which include cigarillos, a type of cigarette wrapped in cigar leaf. They’re just like cigarettes to smoke, but because they’re classed as cigars they’re not subject to plain packaging, there’s no ban on menthol flavours and pack sizes smaller than 20 are legal.

"A pack of 10 cigarillos can be bought for half the price of a pack of cigarettes, making them more attractive to price-sensitive young people. Since 2016 when plain packs legislation came into force sales volumes for cigars have grown by 90 per cent and the majority of that growth will be due to cigarillos. This is a serious loophole in the legislation which needs to be fixed and fixed now."

How many people are now smoking cigars?

The number of people smoking cigars in the UK is difficult to put an exact number on - but we can try to make an estimate.

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Government statistics show that in the 2022/23 financial year, cigar sales netted roughly £141m for the industry. This is dwarfed by cigarette sales, which totalled £8.5bn. As of December 2023, the average cost of a packet of cigarettes was £15.67, meaning roughly 546m packets were sold in that financial year.

The average pack of cigars will set you back roughly the same amount, equating to 9.4m sales in 2022/23. With the UCL study suggesting that one in 10 smokers have switched from cigarettes, and an estimated 6.4m smokers living in the UK, there could be as many as half a million people now smoking cigars.

Are cigars expensive?

While the average packet of cigars is roughly the same as a pack of cigarettes, you typically get five in a packet instead of 10. The old adage is that "you get what you pay for" and when it comes to cigars, you can find yourself paying an eye-watering amount for them.

Among the most popular types of cigar are cubans, with some of the mid-ranged prices starting at £70 for a pack of three.

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But by far the most expensive cigar in the world is the Gurkha Royal Courtesan - wrapped in gold leaf and held together by a dimaond-studded band, just one of these cigars would cost you an eye-watering £1.08m.

Are cigars worse than cigarettes?

With so many people switching from cigarettes to cigars, pipes and shishas, Cancer Research UK has warned that the government's ban should encompass all tobacco products.

A study by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in 2010 found that cigars could actually be worse for your health than smoking cigarettes. The reason for this, the NCI concluded, is that cigar smoke has the potential to be more toxic, with "high concentrations" of nitrosamines produced during the fermentation process when cigars are made. This is a cancerous substance that is released when a cigar is smoked.

The NCI reported that there is also more tar in cigars compared to cigarettes, and a higher level of toxins thanks to cigar wrappers being less pourous.

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