Lockdown saw surge in lighting up cigars, especially among young people

Rihanna smoking a cigar
Celebrities such as Rihanna may be influencing young people to smoke cigars

Lockdowns caused a surge in people smoking cigars and pipes, a study has found.

Young adults are now the most likely to smoke such tobacco products after the revival of a trend that may have been inspired by celebrities such as American sports stars and musicians, it has been suggested.

The number of adults in England using non-cigarette tobacco products increased from around 210,000 in February 2020 to a peak of almost one million adults in May 2022.

The rise in the proportion of adults using cigars, cigarillos, pipes and shisha over the last decade is a public health concern, according to cancer experts, and separate to the rise in e-cigarettes and vaping.

Researchers said the economic impact of the pandemic and reports that smoking cigarettes made Covid-19 worse could also be behind the 350 per cent increase.

In September 2013, just 0.36 per cent of adults, or around 151,000 people, used the products, rising to 0.46 per cent by February 2020, to around 210,000.

Over the following two years as the pandemic took hold, this surged to a peak of 1.97 per cent in May 2022, when around 910,000 adults were smoking cigars or other non-cigarette tobacco products.

Rapper Jay-Z is fond of a cigar - New York Daily News Archive

The number has fallen to 1.68 per cent since, according to the latest figures in September 2023, accounting for around 773,000 people.

But scientists are most concerned by the rise in use among young adults, with 3.2 per cent of 18-year-olds smoking the products in September 2023, up from just 0.19 per cent a decade earlier, according to the study.

Trend reversed in 2023

Where the proportion of people using cigars and other products had risen with age in 2013, the trend had completely reversed in 2023, with 65-year-olds the least likely to partake in non-cigarette smoking.

Their use had increased in all age groups.

The research by University College London also noted that the rise in use coincided with a ban on menthol cigarettes, which was not extended to other tobacco products.

Cancer Research UK said this proved it was vital that the ban on smoking for anyone born in 2009 or later set to be introduced by the Government did not have similar loopholes available.

Dr Ian Walker, the charity’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.

Al Pacino
Al Pacino is famous for his cigar chomping roles - Universal/Kobal/Shutterstock

“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 smoke-free UK, preventing future generations from ever becoming addicted to tobacco.”

Tobacco causes around 54,300 cancer cases each year in the UK.

Cigars, shisha and pipes are just as, if not more, dangerous to health than cigarettes, it is said.

‘It’s a concerning picture’

Smoking any of these products drastically increases the risk of developing, lung, throat, mouth, oesophageal, and head and neck cancers.

Dr Sarah Jackson, lead author of the paper and principal research fellow at UCL’s Institute of Epidemiology and Health, said the study “paints a concerning picture”.

Former NBA star Michael Jordan smokes a cigar
Former NBA star Michael Jordan smokes a cigar - ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty

“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.”

The study was published in the Nicotine & Tobacco Research journal.