Sales of products designed to help smokers kick the habit have soared in the past 12 months, exclusive Kantar data has revealed but the trend has failed to dent the growth of leading cigarette brands.

Over the past year, sales of quitting aids, such as market leaders Niquitin and Nicotinell, rose 10% to £97m a year while volumes surged a massive 16% [Kantar Worldpanel 52w/e 24 January 2010].

Industry analysts suggested the sales boost was unlikely to have been caused by a sudden upturn in the number of people trying to break the smoking habit.

Greater integration with official NHS guidance, diversified product ranges and heavy advertising support all contributed to the sales boost. Last February, Nicotinell broke with its traditional advertising strategy by sponsoring three hours of programming on UKTV each night, in the run-up to National No Smoking Day.

"Smokers that attempt to quit without assistance are significantly less likely to quit successfully than those who quit with support," a Department of Health spokeswoman told The Grocer.

"The unsupported quit rate is about 4% at one year. This is doubled when a smoker uses stop smoking medicines."

A spokeswoman for GSK agreed its Niquitin brand had benefited from the government's anti-smoking push. "Smoking cessation underwent something of a renaissance in 2009, after a quiet period following SmokeFree legislation," she said.

"The government invested heavily in promoting its smoking cessation services locally and nationally, which looks to have made an impact."

However, neither the surging sales of quitting products nor the outdoor smoking ban have shown any signs of slowing the long-running slow and steady sales growth of the tobacco category.

Official HMRC figures reveal tobacco sales rose to a huge £11.3bn in 2009, an increase of 3.3% on the previous year.

Six of the top 10 cigarette brands were in growth in 2009, according to Nielsen data seen by The Grocer. Leading brand Lambert & Butler saw sales slip 2.5%, but second-placed Mayfair grew a hefty 4.8%, while Marlboro sales were up 0.7% [Nielsen MAT to December 2009].

The roll-your-own category, widely expected to benefit from the economic downturn, continued to show the strongest growth in the tobacco sector.

However, suppliers fear a tobacco display ban could stifle future innovation.