Tobacco stocks surge as FDA announces crackdown on e-cigarette companies over teen use

Shiho Fukada for The Washington Post | Getty Images
Customers try IQOS device during demonstration at IQOS store in Tokyo, Japan on July 31, 2017.

Tobacco stocks surged Wednesday after regulators threatened to pull e-cigarettes from shelves if manufacturers do not control "widespread" teen use.

Shares of Altria rose more nearly 7 percent to their best day since November, 2008. Philip Morris International increased about 3 percent. British American Tobacco shares increased nearly 6 percent to their best day since December, 2008. In London, Imperial Brands rose 3 percent.

The FDA is considering restricting e-cigarette manufacturers from selling flavored nicotine liquid or making the products undergo an agency review. FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb extended an Obama-era deadline that would have required e-cigarettes on the market by 2016 to be reviewed starting this year.

The FDA is specifically ordering five brands — Juul, BAT's Vuse, Altria's MarkTen, Imperial's Blu E-cigs and Japan Tobacco's Logic — to submit plans within 60 days detailing how they will prevent teens from using their products. The agency may require the companies to revise their sales and marketing practices, to stop distributing products to retailers that sell to kids and to stop selling some or all of their flavored e-cigarette products until the companies clear the application process.

Investors welcomed the regulatory crackdown. E-cigarette sales have threatened Big Tobacco companies. Some of them own their own e-cigarette brands, but none has been nearly as successful as privately held Juul.

The San Francisco-based company sold $1.29 billion in vape kits and nicotine pods over the 12 months ended Aug. 11 — more than half of the $2.31 billion for the entire category, according to Nielsen data compiled by Wells Fargo analyst Bonnie Herzog.

In a note to clients on Wednesday, Herzog said Juul is most at risk. Piper Jaffray analyst Michael Lavery said flavors including mint, but not menthol, accounted for about 90 percent of Juul's sales in recent data.

A potential "ban" on Juul would be a positive for Atria, which sells Marlboro cigarettes, Herzog said.

While BAT and Altria own two of the brands targeted in Wednesday's announcement, the companies are asking the FDA to review new "heat-not-burn" products. These devices warm tobacco instead of burning it, which may make it less harmful than smoking conventional cigarettes and unappealing to teens because the products deliver an experience that's similar to traditional smoking.

Philip Morris International developed the heat-not-burn product, IQOS, that Altria plans to commercialize if regulators clear it. Lavery said Wednesday's crackdown is a "clear positive" for the regulatory outlook.

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