Tobacco giants Imperial Brands and British American Tobacco (BAT) have suffered hefty share price falls following a report claiming US regulators are planning to ban menthol cigarettes.
Shares in FTSE 100-listed BAT fell 9%, hitting their lowest for nearly five years, while fellow blue chip Imperial Brands was 3% down after the recent Wall Street Journal (WSJ) report.
Experts said the ban could impact upon a business generating as much as a quarter of BAT’s annual earnings.
BAT now owns Newport cigarettes – one of the most popular menthol brands – following its 49 billion US dollar (£38 billion) acquisition of RJ Reynolds last year.
The WSJ report claimed officials at the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) were planning to impose the ban, which comes just days after the FDA announced plans to curb sales of flavoured e-cigarettes.
Analysts at Barclays estimated US sales of menthol cigarettes account for around 25% of BAT’s annual underlying earnings and around 11% of Imperial Brands’s earnings.
But it is thought the menthol ban could take up to two years to come into force, with a year for the rules to be finalised and another year for the ban to be enforced in the marketplace.
It is understood the FDA wants to ban menthol cigarettes as they are known to be harder to quit, as the flavour soothes the throat while injecting a hit of addictive nicotine.
The FDA is also clamping down on flavoured e-cigarettes amid fears these are luring young people into smoking.
However, menthol vaping is not thought to be banned as it is popular among cigarette smokers looking to quit.
BAT has brands including Lucky Strike and Camel, while Imperial’s stable includes Davidoff, West and JPS.