Challenging Future of Tobacco Companies in the Post-Cigarette Era
Those who have attempted self-help programs know that change is not easy, and this struggle applies to tobacco companies as well. They hope to capitalize on the remnants of their traditional cigarette business to drive sales of e-cigarettes and oral smokeless tobacco (snuff), and strive to create a sustainable future. However, as demonstrated by the ban on disposable e-cigarettes in the UK, the growth potential of alternative nicotine delivery products seems to be limited.
It should be noted that the new policy in the UK is not directly targeting traditional tobacco manufacturers such as British American Tobacco and Imperial Brands. Its focus is on the disposable e-cigarette market, which is valued at £1.3 billion and predominantly dominated by Chinese imports known for their diverse flavors such as colorful and bubblegum. According to data from Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), this market is growing rapidly and is expected to account for 31% of the entire e-cigarette market by 2023, compared to just 2% in 2021.
Tobacco companies focusing on non-disposable e-cigarettes may see the ban as having a positive impact on their smokeless business. Despite a decrease in sales of devices with fewer colors, their market position is expected to remain unchanged. These companies may also hope to shift the demand towards other smokeless products, such as "modern oral," a new form of snuff. Similar to the Renaissance, Philip Morris acquired Swedish Match and its Zyn nicotine pouch products in 2022, with sales in this category predicted to double in the United States by 2030.
However, this hopeful prospect overlooks a key issue. The actions taken by the UK indicate that regulatory authorities are highly sensitive to the rise of alternative nicotine delivery methods, especially if they begin to attract "never smokers." Therefore, pursuing growth in these categories is a complex balancing act.
Investors may not necessarily pay a long-term price for this outlook. According to Panmure Gordon, Philip Morris leads the way in the smokeless sector, with 35% of its revenue coming from this area. Despite its forward price-to-earnings ratio of 15 times, double the valuation multiple of its British counterparts, its stock price has consistently lagged behind Imperial Brands over the past three years, with little to no alternative products. Instead, Philip Morris is more inclined to return cash to its shareholders.
Taking the UK as an example, if all regulatory bodies agree that there is no favorable way of smoking, then Imperial Tobacco Company's strategy may be the most suitable for this declining industry.
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