OBJECTIVE: To examine the extent and type of cigarette brand switching by adult smokers. To evaluate discrepancies between actual and projected cigarette brand sales based on changes in adult smoking patterns. DESIGN: Data analysed come from a cohort tracking survey of 11966 cigarette smokers aged 25-64 years from 20 communities in the United States who were followed between 1988 and 1993 as part of the National Cancer Institute's Community Intervention Trial for Smoking Cessation. OUTCOME MEASURES: Respondents were asked about their current cigarette brand in 1988 and 1993. Brand switching was inferred when a smoker reported a different cigarette brand in 1988 and 1993. Company switching was defined as brand switching for whom a different parent company was identified for the 1993 brand compared with the brand used in 1988. A ratio measure was computed to reflect gains in market share from brand switching and losses from brand switching, quitting, and death, for specific cigarette brands, between 1988 and 1993. This ratio measure was used to estimate the projected unit sales for top-selling premium brands in 1993 and was compared with actual unit sales for the same year. RESULTS: We estimate that an average of 9.5% of smokers switched cigarettes brands and 7.6% switched companies each year. Most of those who did switch cigarette brands changed from a premium brand to a discount or generic brand. Between 1988 and 1993, top-selling premium brands such as Marlboro, Camel, and Newport, lost about four times as many adult smokers as they gained. Whereas premium brand cigarettes lost some smokers to discount and generic cigarettes, over 50% of losses were due to smokers quitting or dying. Actual unit sales were substantially higher than projected sales (based on adult market share) for Marlboro and Camel, but not for other brands. CONCLUSIONS: Most smokers are brand loyal. Price seems to be an important factor motivating brand switching among adult smokers. It appears that recruitment of new customers among the ranks of non-smokers is necessary for premium cigarette brands such as Marlboro and Camel to maintain sales comparable to previous years.
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