High-yield tobacco debt has surged 5.2 percent this year, more than any other area of munis and beating the entire market’s 1.6 percent return, Barclays data show.

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The owners of the riskiest tobacco-backed municipal bonds would like to thank Americans who haven’t quit smoking.

High-yield tobacco debt has surged 5.2 percent this year, more than any other area of munis and beating the entire market’s 1.6 percent return, Barclays data show.

The securities, backed by revenue from U.S. cigarette shipments, are one of the few segments of the tax-exempt market where default isn’t just possible — it’s expected. Moody’s Investors Service predicted in September that 80 percent of the bonds will fail to pay in full. Yet there are signs the drop in consumption is waning: Philip Morris USA projects cigarette volume fell 2.5 percent in the final quarter of 2014 and 3.5 percent for the full year.

That’s less than the 4.8 percent average slide the prior seven years. With tobacco debt yielding more than almost all munis, the bonds are a buy for MacKay Municipal Managers, Nuveen Asset Management and OppenheimerFunds.

Tobacco bonds share a revenue stream from a 1998 settlement in which Lorillard, Philip Morris USA and Reynolds American agreed to make annual payments to states in perpetuity to settle liabilities for health-care costs tied to smoking. States and cities borrowed against the funds, selling $93 billion of debt when factoring in the full value of zero-coupon obligations.