Background: The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports data on cigar sales in two categories: little cigars (weighing less than 3 lbs. per thousand) and large cigars and cigarillos (weighing more than 10 lbs. per thousand). A rise in the sales of little cigars in recent years is a cause for concern. The capacious second category could be obscuring the growth of sales in cigarillos.
Methods: Trends in cigar use were analyzed in May 2007 using (1) the standard USDA two-level system and (2) data from the Maxwell Report that provides information on cigarillos as a separate category. The intercorrelations among cigar use trends in the three areas were also explored.
Results: From 1993 to 2006, unit sales of little cigars increased from 37% to 47% of the cigar market, cigarillos increased from 25% to 32%, and large cigars dropped from 37% to 22%. From 1976 to 2006, cigarillo sales were strongly related to sales of little cigars (r=0.93; 95% CI=0.86-0.97), while sales of large cigars and cigarillos were modestly related (r=0.42; 95% CI=0.08-0.57).
Conclusions: Analyses show strong correlations between cigarillo and little cigar sales and argue for more detailed reporting of cigar sales as a function of cigar size. Tobacco surveillance should at minimum be watching the same trends as the tobacco industry. The sales of little cigars, cigarillos, and large cigars should be monitored, and the measuring of cigarillo sales in 3-5 subcategories according to size is encouraged.