Philip Morris and Altria Are in Talks to Merge

The tobacco giants Philip Morris International and the Altria Group are in talks to reunite, the businesses mentioned on Tuesday, in a deal that may mix the preferred manufacturers of each conventional and digital cigarettes.

The corporations described the proposed deal in an announcement as an “all-stock, merger of equals,” however cautioned that the discussions may not outcome in an settlement.

The variety of cigarettes bought in the United States fell three.5 p.c in 2017 from the earlier 12 months, in accordance to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The e-cigarette market was price about $11 billion in 2018, and it’s projected to surpass $18 billion by 2024, in accordance to a report from Mordor Intelligence, a market analysis agency.

Altria agreed final 12 months to pay practically $13 billion for a 35 p.c stake in Juul Labs. The proposed merger could be a lift for Altria’s funding. Juul has been making an attempt to develop abroad, nevertheless it lacks the worldwide distribution community of Philip Morris, which has grown because it was spun off from Altria in 2008.

The transfer would additionally permit Philip Morris to revenue from Juul, slightly than compete with it. Philip Morris’s marquee product in the e-cigarette market is IQOS, a penlike machine that warms a tobacco stick and releases a vapor with the style of tobacco, however has fewer dangerous chemical substances than cigarette smoke does. It is accessible in greater than 47 nations, however was solely lately accepted on the market in the United States. The product will likely be marketed in the United States by way of a licensing settlement with Altria.

The Food and Drug Administration’s two-year evaluate of IQOS delayed its introduction and gave Juul time to seize the market. E-cigarette makers got a delay in making use of for F.D.A. approval, however Philip Morris submitted numerous research and testimony to clear powerful regulatory hurdles. It continues to be ready for the F.D.A.’s choice on whether or not IQOS will be bought as a reduced-risk product, which suggests they are often marketed as safer than conventional cigarettes.

Shares in each corporations fell on Wall Street as traders questioned the deal. Altria’s inventory closed down four p.c, and Philip Morris dropped 7.eight p.c.

But in the worldwide race to market reduced-risk nicotine merchandise, each corporations would profit from decrease prices and greater manufacturing, Bonnie Herzog, a managing director with Wells Fargo Securities, mentioned in an e mail on Tuesday.

“We have long believed a combination of the two companies would make a lot of sense,” Ms. Herzog mentioned. One of the advantages of a merger could be extra diversified geographic gross sales, which would cut back the dangers to Altria from the F.D.A.’s concentrate on vaping and nicotine discount, she mentioned.

The spinoff of Philip Morris was meant to insulate it from the smoking legal responsibility lawsuits and federal regulatory actions that had plagued Altria. With its international attain, Philip Morris is now a lot bigger than its former guardian.

Garrett Nelson, a senior fairness analyst at CFRA Research, mentioned it would make sense for the businesses to reunite, however Philip Morris traders may balk at Altria’s debt load of $29 billion, from its investments in Juul and Cronos, a hashish firm.

“In our opinion, it makes more sense for Altria, because of the ongoing decline of cigarette sales in the U.S. and the heightened regulatory scrutiny for both tobacco and e-cigarettes,” Mr. Nelson mentioned.

Public well being officers had been much less enthusiastic concerning the prospect of a merger.

“This is very dangerous for public health,” mentioned Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “There’s a real concern that a strengthened Philip Morris poses an increased threat to tobacco control measures both in the United States and around the globe.”

Scott Gottlieb, a former F.D.A. commissioner, mentioned it was unclear what the merger would imply for public well being.

“It’s hard to say it’s a good development,” mentioned Dr. Gottlieb, who initially supported extending the deadline for Juul and different e-cigarette corporations to search company approval, then regretted it as issues over youth vaping grew. “One would hope the combined entity would be more focused on truly transitioning smokers off combustible tobacco and onto modified-risk products for adults who still want to access nicotine.”

The F.D.A. has had issue grappling with the rise of e-cigarettes. Initially, F.D.A. officers needed to encourage their improvement in its place to conventional cigarettes, which kill roughly 480,000 Americans a 12 months.

In July 2017, the company gave e-cigarette makers 5 extra years to show that their merchandise supply extra profit than threat to the general public.

In the interim, the youth vaping price skyrocketed. The company compelled Juul and different companies to present that they might hold their merchandise away from youths.

Juul responded by limiting its hottest flavors to on-line gross sales with age verification know-how. Some corporations have adopted swimsuit, though others have popped up to take Juul’s place in shops.

Joshua Raffel, a spokesman for Juul, mentioned the deal wouldn’t have an effect on his firm’s mission.

“Altria is a minority investor in Juul Labs,” he mentioned. “Just like we control our company, they control theirs. Our focus is and will remain entirely on helping adult smokers switch away from combustible cigarettes, the leading cause of preventable death in the world.”

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