The last puff? Changing times for UK and world tobacco market

Tobacco giant Philip Morris International plans to stop selling cigarettes in the UK, it announced at the beginning of January in a new advertising campaign promising to move its business and consumers to give up cigarettes.

As reported in the UK national media, the Marlboro brand owner is the latest in a wave of big tobacco companies, including Philip Morris USA, which is a separate company, who are making efforts to re-brand themselves as the world turns increasingly anti-smoking. Philip Morris International (PMI) has also launched a new website, smokefreefuture.co.uk which helps to inform and encourage UK consumers to quit. PMI advertised in UK newspapers in January, stating that ‘Our New Year’s Resolution’ is that ‘we’re trying to give up cigarettes.’ PMI is also pushing its smoke free products, such as e-cigarettes, as healthier alternatives.

It’s another sign that big tobacco companies worldwide are taking responsibility for their futures and admitting cigarettes may finally be on the way out, faced with overwhelming evidence that cigarette smoking is the leading cause of early death.

As PMI and others steer consumers to e cigarettes, there is disturbing evidence that adolescents who use e cigarettes are more likely to start smoking real cigarettes within a year.

Scientists at the University of California San Francisco examined data collected by a national sample of over 10,000 non-smokers between 12 and 17.

Meanwhile Imperial Tobacco’s shares were down 2.6 percent as we went to press, their lowest level since August 2015. The fall came after the CEO of ITL’s larger rival, Japan Tobacco expressed interest in buying other companies besides Imperial. Imperial shares had rose 4 percent in November, when JTI’s new Japanese CEO talked about a deal with ITL.

The UK tobacco market is still reeling from the collapse of Palmer & Harvey, the UK’s biggest supplier of cigarettes, in November. JTI had huge financial exposure to the company and had worked hard to facilitate a constructive solution to the P&H Group’s challenges, including extending significant financial and operational support to allow P&H to continue operations as long as possible.

UK cigarette sales were dealt a massive blow last May, when new rules came into force, which mean cigarettes must be sold in standardised packaging bearing graphic warnings of the dangers of smoking. Cigarette packs must contain at least 20 cigarettes to ensure they are big enough to display health warnings covering 65% of the front and back. The brand name is restricted to a standard size, font and colour.

Last September Booker reported its tobacco sales had fallen nearly 10% in its second quarter and continued to be adversely impacted by changes in tobacco legislation.