ASH Daily News for 30 March 2020



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UK

  • Coronavirus: Stay fit to fight the virus, say medics
  • Opinion: Tobacco stocks should be doing better out of enforced isolation

International

  • Greece: Big Tobacco is donating ventilators for coronavirus

UK

Coronavirus: Stay fit to fight the virus, say medics

Medical professionals have recommended that people should prepare to fight coronavirus, like they would prepare for surgery, by staying fit and healthy. The Centre for Perioperative Care (CPOC) says a healthy diet, exercise, alcohol-free days and quitting smoking will reduce the risk of becoming severely ill with the virus and make it less likely people will be admitted to intensive care.

CPOC, an initiative based at the Royal College of Anaesthetists, involves medics from different specialisms working together on how they can improve the care and outcomes of patients having surgery. CPOC deputy director Scarlett McNally, a consultant orthopaedic surgeon, said there has been “a lot of very important advice” on how to cut the risk of becoming infected. But there was “little on the importance of preparing in case the virus is contracted”, she added.

Mrs McNally says its Fitter, Better, Sooner advice aimed at preparing patients for operations is “immediately applicable to Covid-19 infection”. She said: “We have good data showing that people who are prepared for an operation have better outcomes. Results are quick.” Experts in China, where the virus originated, “found less fit people with medical conditions were five times more likely to have a worse outcome from Covid-19; and smokers three times more likely to have this result”, she added.

Professor Chris Whitty, the UK government’s Chief Medical Officer, has previously warned smoking is “an additional vulnerability” for healthy people, and said now would be a “very good moment” for people to quit. People are also being urged to take action now to cut the risk of developing other health problems which could put further strain on the NHS.

Source: BBC News, 28 March 2020

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Opinion: Tobacco stocks should be doing better out of enforced isolation

Bryce Elder, UK Equities Reporter, discusses the impact of coronavirus on tobacco stocks:

“It has been a good quarter for fear and boredom. Stocks likely to benefit from enforced isolation make up the bulk of the best performers so far this year, with the likes of Netflix and the video game makers keeping pace with traditional defensives such as gold miners and arms dealers. Yet tobacco, the default product of anxious idleness for nearly a hundred years, has been left side-lined. Why?

“Fear and boredom were what created the modern cigarette industry. Tobacco was seen as essential to first world war rations because soldiers needed something to steel their nerves and pass the time. It was convenience in the trenches that meant pre-rolled cigarettes usurped pipe smoking, with advertising bringing the habit home wrapped in a patriotic flag. Perhaps the most successful marketing campaign of the last century — measured by shareholder returns, at least, rather than public health — was the encouragement to relax in times of stress with a smoke.

“It was not until 2017 that tobacco began to lose its defensive tag as sales started a nosedive and as e-cigarettes threatened to disrupt the main manufacturers’ oligopoly [an industry dominated by a small number of producers/sellers]. Heavy investment in next-generation products, combined with a core market in secular decline, meant dividends were fragile. That cost the sector its bond-proxy status.

“As a result, British American Tobacco has done only slightly better than the FTSE 100 in the year to date, down 17% versus a 25% fall for the index, while Imperial Brands has dropped 30%. Global tobacco stocks have underperformed both the food and household goods categories so far this year, even though their earnings are historically more insulated to recession.

“Valued on expected earnings, BAT and Imperial are back where they were in the late 1990s when liability lawsuits posed a real threat of tipping the companies into bankruptcy. Leaving aside the slightly queasy feeling of holding tobacco stocks during a respiratory-based pandemic, this could be an overreaction.

“…BAT said at a capital markets day last week that European trends were holding steady, while recent US retailer data has pointed to stockpiling rather than cutting back or trading down. Travel restrictions might affect sales through petrol stations and duty-free shops, but lower fuel prices are a counterbalance, and for most customers tobacco does not count as a discretionary purchase anyway.”

Source: Financial Times, 27 March 2020 (paywall)

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International

Greece: Big Tobacco is donating ventilators for coronavirus

Philip Morris International, the world’s largest multinational tobacco company, has been accused of a “shameful publicity stunt” by a leading advocate after it donated ventilators to the Greek government as coronavirus infections mount in the country. Early evidence suggests smokers are more likely to suffer a severe form of illness than non-smokers infected by the virus.

A PMI executive said that the company’s Greek affiliate Papastratos had sourced and paid for the ventilators in order to help “flatten the curve.”

Papastratos donated 50 ventilators for use in Greek hospitals, including 19 to intensive care units at the Sotiria General Hospital of Thoracic Diseases in Athens. As of Sunday, there were at least 1,156 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus in Greece, and at least 38 people had died in connection with it. Vasilis Kikilias, Greece’s health minister, thanked the cigarette company for its donation.

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of Action on Smoking and Health, has criticised PMI’s motives. “This is a shameful publicity stunt by Philip Morris International, which owns Papastratos and has a 40% share of the Greek tobacco market. Smoking makes people more vulnerable to coronavirus, and if they get it makes the symptoms worse, meaning they’re more likely to need a ventilator,” she said. “Papastratos makes €1.3bn a year… In comparison, the donation of 50 ventilators is a drop in the ocean.”

A recent study by Chinese researchers published in the New England Journal of Medicine reported that smokers were much more likely to progress to the severe stage of COVID-19 than non-smokers. Greece has one of the highest smoking rates in the EU. Nearly a third of adults are smokers, according to 2014 figures.

“If smoking does predispose people to having adverse outcomes during COVID-19 it is a funny position to be giving ventilators but selling a product that leads to worse outcomes,” said Constantine Vardavas, a research associate at the University of Crete’s school of medicine.

Source: The Bureau Of Investigative Journalism (published via The Daily Beast), 30 March 2020

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