Consumption of Small Cigars Increases

By Kim Smiley

A study by the CDC has found a decrease in cigarette smoking, but a corresponding increase in the use of other tobacco products.  Cigarette smoking declined 33% between 2000 and 2011 which would be cause for celebration except for the fact that use of other kinds of tobacco grew by 123%.  This seems to be an example of unintended consequences where the attempt to control one problem changed behavior in an unexpected way.

A Cause Map, or visual root cause analysis, can be used to help explain this situation.  Building a Cause Map can illuminate the cause-and-effect relationships between the different factors that contributed to an incident.  To begin a Cause Map, the impacts to organizational goals are determined and then “why” questions are asked to add Causes.  In this example, we’ll focus on the increase in the use of small cigars since they are the tobacco alternative most similar to cigarettes.  We’ll also focus on the Safety Goal since public health is affected by the increasing use of small cigars, although there are certainly other issues such as missed tax revenue worth considering in a more detailed Cause map.

Why is the risk to public health increasing?  This occurs because more people are using small cigars and they have similar health risks to cigarettes because they contain the same toxic chemicals.  Why are more people using small cigars?  Small cigars smoke similarly to cigarettes, are far cheaper than cigarettes and can taste better.

Small cigars are slightly larger than cigarettes, but are similar enough in size to provide a similar smoking experience.  They are far less expensive than cigarettes because they are in a different tax category because of their slightly larger size and the fact that not all tobacco products are equally taxed.  The price difference is significant; small cigars may cost as little as $1.40 a pack while cigarettes sell for $4 or $5 a pack since they are highly taxed to discourage smoking.

Cigars can also taste better because manufacturers are allowed to add flavorings such as grape and chocolate to small cigars, but they are not allowed to add them to cigarettes.  The Food and Drug Administration has regulations that bar adding flavoring to tobacco, but these do not apply to cigars and pipe tobacco.

From 2010 to 2011, the overall use of smoked-tobacco decreased by less than 1%.
It appears that attempts to discourage smoking cigarettes with high taxes just pushed some people into buying cheaper alternatives.  One potential solution to this issue would be to equalize the taxes and regulations on all types of tobacco.

To view a high level Cause Map of this example, click on “Download PDF” above.