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Cigarette Sales Tumble After Initial Pandemic Panic Buying

By Rich Duprey – Apr 17, 2020 at 12:47PM

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Overall shipment volumes could continue growing as smokers have more time and opportunity to smoke.

Hoarding apparently accounted for a 1.1% rise in traditional cigarette volumes for the week ending March 22, a significant reversal for an industry in the midst of a secular decline. But now that smokers have stocked up on supplies, manufacturers are seeing a dramatic fall off in sales.

Convenience store data from Nielsen (NLSN 0.00%) shows sales for the week ending April 4 plunged 8.4% from the week before.

Stacks of cigarettes

Image source: Getty Images.

Stocking up to wait out the worst

According to Nielsen, Altria (MO -1.64%) suffered the biggest decline with volumes at its Philip Morris USA division plummeting 10.4% from the prior week, though British American Tobacco's (BTI -0.52%) R.J. Reynolds unit also suffered a big drop, with volumes falling 8.2% week to week.

ITG Brands, which is a subsidiary of Imperial Brands (IMBB.Y 0.20%) and owns traditional cigarette brands such as Winston, Salem, Kool, and Maverick, saw volumes fall 7.9%.

The Winston-Salem Journal quotes Piper Sandler analyst Michael Lavery as saying the incidence of smoking could rise during shelter-in-place orders that keep people out of venues that prohibit smoking, such as restaurants, bars, and workspaces.

"Consumption levels also tend to increase during times of personal stress," Lavery said. "Lower gas prices and consumer wages (and/or unemployment benefits) are also key variables for 2020 volumes."

Altria, though, maintains its market dominance with a near-54% share of the market, followed by British American at almost 34%. ITG Brands is trailing well behind in third place with a 7% share.

Rich Duprey owns shares of Altria Group. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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Stocks Mentioned

Altria Group, Inc. Stock Quote
Altria Group, Inc.
$40.79 (-1.64%) $0.68
British American Tobacco p.l.c. Stock Quote
British American Tobacco p.l.c.
$36.08 (-0.52%) $0.19
Imperial Brands PLC Stock Quote
Imperial Brands PLC
$20.54 (0.20%) $0.04
Nielsen Holdings plc Stock Quote
Nielsen Holdings plc
$27.79 (0.00%) $0.00

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