Tobacco stocks have continued to slide after the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Friday announced to plans to slash the amount of nicotine allowed in cigarettes to make them less addictive and easier to quit.
The surprise announcement sent shares in cigarette makers tumbling late on Friday. Although they recovered some ground by the end of the session they have resumed their slide today.
FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a speech that 'we need to envision a world where cigarettes lose their addictive potential through nicotine levels'.
He argued that while nicotine was not the primary cause of the diseases associated with smoking, its addictive qualities combined with the harmful chemical compounds in tobacco smoke made tacking nicotine levels in traditional cigarettes a priority, while higher nicotine content could be delivered by 'less harmful alternative forms' such as 'medicinal nicotine products'.
'Looking at ways to reduce nicotine levels in cigarettes so they are minimally or non-addictive, while not altering the nicotine content of non-combustible products such as e-cigarettes, is a cornerstone of our new and more comprehensive approach to effective tobacco regulation,' he said.
Mike van Dulken, head of research at Accendo Markets, said the initial sharp sell-off of tobacco stocks appeared to be an over-reaction.
He said Gottlieb's stance suggested 'balancing regulation of existing products with encouraging innovation for future less harmful options' and that investors should 'never underestimate the lobbying power of the mighty tobacco industry'.
'It doesn't read like the industry is destined to go up in smoke,' he said. 'Shares are already well off their worst levels.'
Tobacco stocks bucked a rising FTSE 100, which added 37 points, or 0.5%, to 7,406. Miners were among the biggest risers after copper prices hit a two-year high following strong manufacturing data from top metals consumer China. Risers included:
- Anglo American (AAL) +3.1% at £12.70;
- Glencore (GLEN) +2.4% at 339.3p;
- Antofagasta (ANTO) +2.2% at 959.5p;
- Rio Tinto (RIO) +2% at £35.75;
- BHP Billiton (BLT) +1.8% at £13.88.
HSBC (HSBA) was up 2.9% at 764.8p after the bank extended its buyback programme.
On the FTSE 250, IT services firm FDM (FDM) jumped 9.8% to 873p after reporting a 35.4% jump in first-half revenue.