It’s a great time to be a cigarette company again.
Far fewer Americans are smoking, and yet U.S. tobacco revenue is soaring, thanks to years of steady price hikes. Americans spent more at retail stores on cigarettes in 2016 than they did on soda and beer combined, according to independent market-research firm Euromonitor International. Consolidation and cost cutting are boosting profit. Big Tobacco shares are on a roll.
Two decades ago, such a boom didn’t seem possible. The industry faced a future of increasing regulation and declining sales, as older smokers quit and fewer young people picked up the habit. States were suing for billions of dollars. Bankruptcies for some players seemed just around the corner.
Things didn’t turn out so badly, though. Costs from an avalanche of legal settlements and regulatory requirements have been heavy, but they haven’t put any big players out of business. Cigarette makers found they could more than make up for falling volumes with higher prices.