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Cigarillo sales in legalized marijuana markets in the U.S

Daniel P. Giovenco

a Department of Sociomedical Sciences, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, 722 W 168th Street, New York, NY 10032, United States

Torra E. Spillane

a Department of Sociomedical Sciences, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, 722 W 168th Street, New York, NY 10032, United States

Christine M. Mauro

b Department of Biostatistics, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, 722 W 168th Street, New York, NY 10032, United States

Silvia S. Martins

c Department of Epidemiology, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, 722 W 168th Street, New York, NY 10032, United States



Nearly half of marijuana users in the United States also smoke cigarillos, with many using the products as marijuana “blunts.” The relationship between marijuana legalization and tobacco retail has not yet been examined. This study uses tobacco sales data to compare the cigarillo marketplace in states with legalized recreational marijuana to the overall U.S. marketplace in 2016.


Cigarillo sales data from 2016 were obtained from the Nielsen Research Company in the following market regions: Denver, CO; Seattle, WA; Portland, OR; and the overall U.S. Descriptive statistics highlighted differences in the market share of various product features (e.g., flavors, brand, pack size) across regions.


Characteristics such as fruit flavors, single sticks, and 2–3 packs were more popular in legal marijuana regions compared to the overall U.S. Black & Mild, a brand not traditionally used for blunts, was the top brand nationally (32.8% market share), but Swisher was the top brand in legal marijuana regions. In Seattle and Portland, for example, over half the of cigarillo sales were for Swisher products (59.1% and 52.1%, respectively). Cigarillo wraps (i.e., no tobacco filler) were particularly popular in Denver, constituting 11.4% all cigarillo sales versus 2.8% nationally.


Cigarillo product characteristics traditionally associated with blunt use may shape the tobacco market in legal marijuana regions. As more states continue to legalize recreational marijuana, state and local governments should anticipate the potential impact on the tobacco marketplace and implement tobacco control policies (e.g., flavor bans, minimum pack sizes) that discourage product use.

1. Introduction

The commercial sale of recreational marijuana is legal in several U.S. states, and public support for legalization continues to grow. Concurrently, the prevalence of marijuana use has increased over the past decade (Azofeifa et al., 2016), with recent evidence suggesting that rates of use are higher in states where marijuana has some form of legal status (e.g., recreational, medical) (Hasin et al., 2017; Martins et al., 2016; Williams et al., 2017). A concern within the tobacco control community is the impact that marijuana legalization may have on tobacco use behaviors, given the high prevalence of co-use between the two products (Schauer et al., 2015, 2016). One national study found that nearly 70% of current marijuana users also use tobacco products, and that co-use is on the rise (Schauer et al., 2015).

Use of cigarillos (mid-sized, inexpensive cigars that constitute the majority of the mass-merchandise cigar market(Delnevo et al., 2017)) is particularly common among marijuana users, many of whom use the products as “blunts” to smoke marijuana (Giovenco et al., 2016; Koopman Gonzalez et al., 2017; Schauer et al., 2015, 2016). That is, the user empties the tobacco from the cigarillo, replaces it with marijuana, and reseals the outer tobacco leaf. In 2011–2012, nearly half (42.0%) of U.S. adults that smoked marijuana in the past month also reported past-month blunt use, with higher rates reported among young adults ages 18–25 and non-Hispanic blacks compared to older adults and non-Hispanic whites (Schauer et al., 2016). Emerging evidence indicates that blunt use may have serious health risks. For example, blunt users are exposed to nicotine (Peters et al., 2016) and other toxicants through the cigar wrappers, and the co-administration of marijuana and tobacco has been associated with higher dependence on both substances (Schauer et al., 2017; Timberlake, 2009).

Facing considerably fewer regulations compared to cigarettes and other tobacco products, cigarillos have grown popular in recent years, with product features such as flavors and inexpensively-priced 2 and 3 packs driving sales (Delnevo et al., 2017). Moreover, many cigarillo companies seem to design their products to facilitate blunt-making, such as creating products with perforated edges that streamline tobacco removal (Giovenco et al., 2016), and using implicit and explicit flavor names that reference marijuana (e.g., “Green,” “Purple Haze,” “OG Kush”) (Kostygina et al., 2017). Despite the increased legalization of recreational marijuana, research examining the relationship between state marijuana policy and the local tobacco retail environment is extremely limited. One 2013 California-based study found that availability of blunt products was higher in localities with more lenient medical marijuana policies (i.e., permitted medical marijuana dispensaries or private cultivation in the jurisdiction) (Lipperman-Kreda et al., 2014), but no study to date has characterized the cigarillo market in regions with legalized recreational marijuana.

This study uses Nielsen sales data (The Nielsen Company, 2017) to uncover how the market share of cigarillo product features and overall consumption differs in regions where marijuana is recreationally legal compared to the national marketplace. Based on previous qualitative studies with blunt users(Giovenco et al., 2016; Koopman Gonzalez et al., 2017; Stephens et al., 2015), we hypothesize that characteristics valued for blunt making (i.e., brands such as Swisher Sweets, fruit flavors, cigarillo wraps) will be more popular in legal marijuana markets, whereas features not traditionally associated with blunt making (i.e., the brand Black & Mild, unflavored products, large count sizes) will be less popular in these regions compared to the national marketplace.

2. Materials and methods

The Nielsen Research Company collects electronic point-of-sale data for tobacco products in U.S. convenience stores, gas stations, drug stores, grocery stores, mass merchandisers, dollar stores, and other tobacco retailers using a combination of in-store scanner equipment (i.e., barcode readers) and field audits of stores without scanner equipment (The Nielsen Company, 2017). The sales data are nationally and regionally representative and have been used by government agencies and academic researchers to describe patterns and trends in the tobacco marketplace (Delnevo et al., 2017; Kuiper et al., 2017). For this study, data on cigarillo sales in 2016 were obtained for the total U.S. and the following three market regions: Denver, CO; Seattle, WA; and Portland, OR. Sales data were unavailable in Alaska, the only other state where the sale of recreational marijuana was legal in 2016. Each market region is named after its primary city but contains aggregate sales data for several counties making up the city’s overall market area (Denver: 30 counties, Seattle: 16 counties, Portland: 29 counties).

The final dataset contained the total unit and dollar sales of every cigarillo Universal Product Code (UPC) sold in the four study regions in 2016. Additionally, each UPC listing displayed product characteristics such as brand, product type (i.e., cigarillo vs. cigarillo wrap with no tobacco filler), flavor, unit size (i.e., number of cigars per unit), and average unit price. We categorized flavors into the following groups: unflavored, fruit, wine, sweet (e.g., vanilla, cream, chocolate), and other (i.e., flavors such as coffee, or “non-descript” flavors such as Jazz and Tropical). We also created a new variable indicating whether the flavor name contained the words “green” or “purple,” colors associated with several popular strains of marijuana (Leafly, 2017). Market share was calculated as a percentage of total cigarillo dollar sales, a better measure of consumption than unit sales given the wide variability in cigar packaging sizes (Delnevo et al., 2017). Per capita sales were calculated by dividing total dollar sales by the population size in each market region (obtained from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2015 American Community Survey).

3. Results

Table 1

The cigarillo market a in the United States and recreationally legal marijuana regions, b 2016, Nielsen Research Company

Cigarillo sales in legalized marijuana markets in the U.S Daniel P. Giovenco a Department of Sociomedical Sciences, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, 722 W 168th Street, New ]]>