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The company’s operating profit margin , the highest among listed Asian peers, narrowed to 64 percent in 2016 from 67 percent a year earlier in a cigarette market estimated at about $1.1 billion. The gap between the price of cigarettes and beedis, cheap tobacco wrapped in a coarse leaf, has widened after the government raised excise duties and slapped a 15 percent value-added tax last year. The lowest-priced offering sold by Ceylon Tobacco -- the only licensed manufacturer of cigarettes -- is about four times more expensive than leaf-rolled products, which are produced by a segment of the industry that’s relatively less regulated and has seen smaller increases in levies. “In 2017, we foresee the beedi industry capturing at least half the tobacco market, posing a serious threat to the legal cigarette industry,” said Ridley. “As the affordability of legally manufactured cigarettes continues to diminish, more consumers are expected to downgrade to this cheaper alternative.” Beedis accounted for about 44 percent of the total tobacco market last year, up from 20 percent in 2007, Ridley said. The share of smuggled cigarettes is expected to rise to about 8 percent this year from 2 percent in 2016, according to the company. The numbers for the market share shift being claimed for beedis are exaggerated, said Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne. The government is in discussions with farmers cultivating tobacco to wean them away from the crop, he said. Sri Lanka hasn’t seen any evidence of an increase in the market share of beedis as imports of tendu leaf haven’t climbed, said Palitha Abeykoon, chairman of the National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol. Tighter regulations on the beedi segment are being considered, he said. The authority estimates market share using surveys that are based on prevalence of use and not stick count.

From November, the makers of brands including Marlboro and Camel have been forced by a court to buy prime-time TV spots and newspaper ads to settle a lawsuit brought nearly two decades ago by the U.S. Department of Justice over misleading statements the industry had made about the health effects of cigarettes, The Wall Street Journal reports. The ads won’t display graphic images but instead will present stark black-and-white text statements stating how tobacco companies “intentionally designed cigarettes to make them more addictive,” while another will say “more people die every year from smoking than from murder, AIDS, suicide, drugs, car crashes, and alcohol, combined.” Amazingly, there’s no requirement these ads run on any digital channels, where many young, impressionable people who might be considering taking up smoking tend to consume a lot of their media. “I think [tobacco companies are] getting off kind of lightly,” said John Boiler, co-founder of 72andSunny, an agency that does work for the antitobacco nonprofit Truth Campaign. CMO Today’s Alexandra Bruell reports: Anheuser-Busch InBev has consolidated its global media account with four agencies, down from eight. Dentsu Aegis Network wins the large U.S. account from incumbent Mediacom, which is owned by WPP. Omnicom, WPP and Publicis media agencies will support various international markets. Lucas Herscovici, a global marketing executive at the beer giant, said the consolidation was designed to “reduce complexity.” Usually, that’s code for cost savings, but Mr. Herscovici insisted that wasn’t the motivation.

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