Resurgence in Number of Smoke Shops

Cigarette taxes, indoor smoking bans, and an increase in consumer education are all policies used in the U.S. to try and decrease the number of tobacco consumers. These policies have been ramping up in recent years, and one would think that this would have a heavy negative impact on smoke supply stores throughout the country, but the opposite seems to be true. Between 1998 and 2012 the U.S. Census showed that the number of tobacco shops has doubled, while the number of tobacco consumers continues to go down.

One reason for this could be that many smokers are realizing that with rising cigarette taxes, it is often cheaper to buy loose leaf tobacco and roll it themselves, or to switch to a different consumption method such as pipe smoking. It has also been hypothesized that while the number of customers frequenting these stores is decreasing, the patrons that continue to smoke are buying in larger quantities.

The vast majority of tobacco retailers are convenience stores, supermarkets, and pharmacies; making them a much larger target for antismoking advocates, while freestanding tobacco shops only made up 4% of the market in 2012. Due to the increase in cigarette prices, these stand alone retailers have found that buying in bulk and passing the savings on to the customer can be highly profitable. These stores are also helping consumers save money by carrying a greater selection of cigarette brands, many of which are drastically cheaper than the major players such as Marlboro and Camel. The success of smoke shops can also be contributed the variety of products they offer. While gas stations and conventional retailers tend to focus on pushing cigarettes and snuff, specialty tobacco stores often offer a greater selection of tobacco products and paraphernalia, such as hookah, e-cigarettes, and hand pipes.

Every year more and more states are choosing to legalize marijuana for either medical or recreational use, which has also had a positive impact on the smoke shop industry.  Smoke shops that specialize in cannabis consumption often offer a vast array of grinders, rolling papers, oil rigs, glass pipes, vaporizers, and large water pipes that would make even Cheech and Chong jealous. These stores are far from exclusive to the states that have to some degree decriminalized marijuana, and can be found in most major cities all across the U.S. As marijuana use continues to become less taboo and more mainstream, one can only assume smoke shops catering to pot smokers will continue to rise.

In recent years, many anti-tobacco ad campaigns have focused on the harmful additives that big tobacco companies are adding to their factory made cigarettes, claiming that these chemicals make the product more addictive and harmful for the consumer. Campaigns like this may have actually helped tobacco supply stores by pushing customers their way that are in search of a healthier tobacco product. Smoke shops allow the consumer to pick out a tobacco they prefer, many of which are organically grown and do not feature any additives. Beginning in the early 2000s, many states began requiring cigarettes to be “fire safe”. This is often achieved by adding chemical bands throughout the length of the cigarette that are intended to extinguish a cigarette if it is left unattended. Many smokers are worried that the chemicals in these bands may have negative impacts on their health, and have turned to smoke shops to supply them with quality tobacco and cigarette papers that are free of such fire safe measures.

Public health initiatives have long been focused on decreasing cigarette consumption, and do not focus on things like hookah or e-cigarettes. Because of this, the new generation of tobacco consumers are more inclined to use these methods to get there buzz, rather than lighting up a cigarette. Between 2011 and 2015, e-cigarette use among high school students has shot up 14.5 percent, while hookah use has gone up 3 percent during the same time period. Smoke shops carry a wide selection of flavors and strengths of shisha (hookah tobacco) and e-cigarette fluid, allowing the user to enjoy a customized smoking experience not found with conventional tobacco products.

The “cool” factor also seems to be helping out the industry. It’s increasingly becoming more hip to be seen puffing on a nice hand carved pipe, thick stogie, or hand rolled cigarette rather than your typical mass-produced cigarette. While conventional cigarette smoking went down 33 percent from 2000 to 2011, the CDC reports that loose tobacco and cigar sales went up an astounding 123 percent during the same period. The largest uptick in use by far has been pipe tobacco use. Once thought of as a habit reserved for the snooty and stuck up crowd, that image has been shattered; leading to an impressive 482 percent increase in sales between 2000 and 2011. While it is true that many gas stations, grocery stores, and pharmacies carry these products, the brand selection is limited and the quality is almost always lacking, which pushes many consumers into specialty tobaccos shops to find the products they desire.

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