Published September 2016
Cellulose acetate and triacetate ﬁbers are derived from acetylated cellulose. Cellulose acetate is used primarily in the production of cigarette filter tow, which is used in the majority of cigarette filters worldwide. The filter tow helps remove tar and nicotine while maintaining favorable taste to the smoker. It also provides desired hardness/ﬁrmness ﬁlter mouth feel; a uniform, white appearance at the end of an unlighted cigarette; is readily processed; and is cost-effective. In cellulose acetate textile fibers, the fabrics made provide comfort along with a soft and good drape, and also have pleatability and ease-of-care characteristics.
The following pie chart shows world consumption of cellulose acetate cigarette filter tow:
Global acetate tow demand decreased from 2011 to 2016. The decrease is being driven by declining global cigarette use and a declining number of smokers. Health issues caused by smoking, government restrictions on public smoking, increasing taxation, competition from electronic cigarettes, and weaker economies have all contributed to this trend. Cigarette sales have dropped in the last several years in the United States, Western Europe, and Japan. And in China, tobacco sales declined in 2015 for the first time in 20 years. As a result, cigarette production facilities such as in Western Europe have shut down or have been relocated.
The overall cellulose acetate fibers market is expected to remain fairly flat, growing at 0.1% per year in the coming years. For cigarette filter tow, a slight decline is expected as declines in demand will continue in North America, Europe, and Japan. The market in China is also expected to remain flat or only slightly increase in acetate tow consumption. The declining global market has led to capacity shutdowns or reductions for acetate tow, as well as closures of cigarette production plants. The global demand for cellulose acetate textile fibers will experience modest growth (3–4%), mainly supported by China.
Growth for acetate textile fibers will be mainly in China, where new apparel applications and increased exports of finished clothing will lead to increased demand. There will be limited growth elsewhere, as triacetate ﬁbers have generally been replaced by polyester fabrics, which provide the softness, comfort, and heat-set properties of triacetate but at a lower price.
The current world market for cigarette filter tow is oversupplied as a result of continued declining demand for cigarettes. Future filter tow demand growth may come from production of longer filters to reduce tar and increasing filter production in areas where they are currently not used, such as parts of Asia; there is also the possibility of growing existing markets such as targeting female smokers in certain countries. For cellulose acetate textile fibers, developing new markets other than apparel or home furnishings could lead to growth opportunities.