The natural pairing of cigarettes and cigars with items like lighters, matches and ashtrays would seem to have dwindling appeal with consumers as the smoking population continues to shrink.
But recent data suggests something else is taking place in convenience stores where smoking accessories, including pipes, jumped nearly 10% in dollar sales and 5.5% in unit sales over the 52 weeks ending Dec. 26, 2021, per IRI. And lighters, always a perennial favorite, recorded a 7.4% gain in dollar sales, with a minimal dip of 0.4% in unit sales.
“Lighters have held pretty steady for us,” said Mike Clifford, category manager for Clifford Fuel Co., which runs 19 Cliff’s Local Market stores throughout central New York state. “Papers, however, were up around 20% over the past year. Most people were interested in hemp papers.”
Consumer interest in pipes and rolling papers probably has more to do with the expanding number of states legalizing recreational cannabis for adults aged 21 and older than individuals preferring to roll their own combustible cigarettes or traditional pipe tobacco. IRI reported that roll-your-own and pipe tobacco dollar and unit sales all fell by double digits.
That said, it’s probably not what’s been driving the uptick noted at Clifford’s stores. Although New York legalized recreational cannabis last fall, the law didn’t take effect until this year. Rather, he suspects the statewide flavor ban made a bigger impact.
“I think, over the past year, there’s been a shift from vape to paper products,” he said.
However, not every c-store has experienced such resilience. Lance Klatt, executive director for the Minnesota Service Station & Convenience Store Association, said members have observed drops in tobacco accessories and other basket items, apparently correlated with slowing tobacco transactions.
“A member in Bloomington mentioned cigarette sales are down 6%, and overall store sales are down 22.5%,” he said.
Later this year, though, that shift for items like lighters, pipes and papers could really pick up momentum. Not only is the environment friendlier — two out of three Americans favor legalization of recreational cannabis, per a Gallup poll last fall — but Democrats in both the U.S. House and Senate have announced intentions to introduce federal bills to decriminalize marijuana. If national laws are changed, c-stores across the country could see traditional tobacco accessories regain favor with cannabis consumers.