Top cigarette manufacturer indicates cigarettes are making a comeback during COVID-19 pandemic

BOSTON — Executives at Marlboro cigarette maker Altria Group Inc. say the recent trends are so substantial, they’re significantly slowing the years-long decline in cigarette sales.

Altria Group had initially expected U.S. cigarette sales to drop by 4 to 6.5% this year, but in an earnings call Tuesday, they slashed that number, dropping it to 2 to 3.5%.

“I did hear that on the news and I’m not surprised,” said Linda Coletti, of Walpole. “People are very bored right now, they don’t know what to do with themselves. I do my yardwork to help with my stress, but some people light-up.”

Altria CEO Billy Gifford said there are a few things driving cigarette sales.

He argued, during the pandemic, people have more time and more money from unemployment and stimulus checks to invest in cigarettes.

He also pointed to federal restrictions on e-cigarettes as a possible reason why more people are turning to traditional ones.

“It doesn’t really surprise me because in times of stress, people turn to what they know,” said Massachusetts General Hospital Dr. Jonathan Winickoff. “If someone is addicted to a tobacco product, they may continue to use that product.”

Winickoff said smoking should be the last thing people do right now.

“This pandemic makes it even more urgent for people to quit,” said Winickoff. “Smoking, specifically tobacco smoke, increases the receptors for coronavirus inside your lungs. It makes it more likely that the virus may stick into the lung and enter into the lung cells, and do damage there.”

Winickoff said smoking also damages a defense mechanism in the body.

“Not only is it [smoking] potentially damaging the lungs at a time when you need healthy lungs to fight off this virus, it even damages some of the natural strategy that the body uses to defend itself,” said Winickoff.

Winickoff is encouraging cigarette smokers to turn to nicotine patches and gum to kick the habit.

“Crumple them up, throw them in the trash,” said Bob Evers, of Norwood. “Show yourself that you can do it. You don’t need cigarettes.”

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