For the first time more than a decade, Americans appear to be smoking more.

A confluence of factors – from a better jobs market to cheaper gasoline to reductions in government anti-smoking programs – are driving a monthslong pickup in cigarette sales, analysts say. If current trends hold, 2015 could mark the first year since 2002 that sales volumes increase.

Not even tobacco companies are suggesting the long-term decline in smoking in the U.S. is reversing itself. Indeed, executives predict annual volumes will keep falling over time.

But recent data pointing to a slight increase in pack sales this year nonetheless underscore worrisome trends for public health officials. While the number of smokers in the United States has steadily declined, some smokers now seem to be lighting up more. Others are turning to chewing tobacco and electronic cigarettes to supplement cigarette habits rather than quit.

To public-health groups, any signs that the declines in smoking might be leveling off is cause for alarm and renewed anti-smoking efforts.

“Anytime cigarette sales aren’t going down, that’s cause for concern,” said Vince Willmore, spokesman for the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids. “We’re talking about the No. 1 cause of preventable death in our country.”

This year’s apparent bounce largely reflects the improving economy, particularly rising employment, analysts say. Gasoline prices are also a factor. Smokers as a group tend to have lower incomes than non-smokers, and some are using the money they’re saving at the pump to buy cigarettes.

“Those gas price savings are a big benefit,” said Vivien Azer, an analyst at Cowen & Co. Sixty percent of cigarette sales happen at convenience stores and gas stations, she said.


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