Some 27% of the independent c-store retailers surveyed said that tobacco was their best performing product category of 2009 up from 23% the previous year.
Retailers have attributed the rise to factors including the ban on smoking in public places, which has reduced sales in pubs and clubs as more people buy from stores to smoke at home.
The testing economic climate has also been mooted as a key reason for tobacco's surprisingly good performance.
"Tobacco is one of the few industries that remains buoyant in a recession," said Ken Patel, retailer and national spokesman for the Tobacco Retailers Alliance. "If people lose their jobs and feel stressed they smoke more, it's simple," he added.
Debbie Corris of Jim Ingram's in Whitstable, Kent, added that a fall in the volume of smuggled tobacco had also helped to lift sales. "HMRC has done a superb job in terms of seizures in the past year, which has had a positive impact on legitimate sales. The economic downturn also put many people off holidaying abroad, resulting in a drop in cross-border smuggling and resale," she said.
Confectionery was rated the top-performing category of 2009, with a quarter of retailers saying they expected tobacco to take over the top spot in 2010.