No smoke without fire

Cessation therapy market lights up as anti-smoking legislation kicks in.

Smoking is on the decrease in the west, aided by the introduction of smoking bans across Europe and some of the US and targeted awareness campaigns highlighting the health risks and encouraging quitting. In 2003, the UK banned tobacco advertising, before banning smoking in public buildings in 2007. In April this year, the UK followed in the footsteps of Iceland, Thailand, Norway, Canada and Ireland in introducing a ban on displaying cigarettes in shops, in an attempt to reduce the appeal of smoking to youngsters.  This move has faced serious opposition from Big Tobacco and small retailers, who argue that restricting in-store promotion will hit their sales. However, one sector where the ban isn’t causing a drag is the smoking cessation market. With more and more smokers trying to put out their cigarettes, the opportunities for companies involved in making that process easier has grown steadily.

With smoking estimated to cause six million deaths per year through cancer and heart disease worldwide, the potential in therapies to aid quitting has been recognised in industry. According to GlaxoSmithKline, 70 per cent of smokers want to quit, but less than 5 per cent actually do, and encouraging people to quit represents a massive opportunity for companies willing to enter the market. The big guns have already made the most of this, with GSK and Pfizer dominating smoking cessation. As well as over-the-counter nicotine replacement therapies (NRTs), which can be marketed directly to the consumer, prescription cessation drugs have also entered the market, with Pfizer’s Champix and GSK’s Zyban. Champix generated revenues of £720m in 2011.

NRTs are particularly popular for kicking the habit, especially since the move from prescription to over-the-counter availability, and are still the main method used by smokers to quit – both GSK and Pfizer have made significant profits from over-the-counter prescriptions of NRTs, including patches, gum, lozenges and inhalers. GSK dominates with the brands Nicorette and NicoDerm in the US, and ploughed £30m into TV advertising for Nicorette in 2009–2010.

It hasn’t all been positive though for the industry – although the patient populations are increasing and driving overall revenues, confidence has been dented in prescription medication. Pfizer’s major product is Champix, which has hit the headlines multiple times as stories of patient suicides and mood swings have emerged, resulting in multiple lawsuits, negative media coverage and a decline in revenues between 2010 and 2011 of 5 per cent. The dramatic nature of the side effects has grabbed the attention of the public. More recently, concerns were raised over possible heart problems as a result of taking Champix. However, the controversial drug remains one of the more effective ways of quitting smoking. Safety concerns have also been raised for Zyban in similar areas.

The Asian markets present a considerable future opportunity for companies in smoking cessation, but awareness of the dangers of smoking and government intervention remain low in these regions. According to WHO estimates in 2010, Asia contains over half of the world’s smokers, while China has a male smoking prevalence as high as 53 per cent. These figures suggest that a considerable market for smoking cessation exists, but is as yet largely untapped because of cultural attitudes to smoking and a lack of public health efforts to combat the addiction by governments.

Overall, the smoking cessation market five years on from the ban is still growing at a healthy rate and is expected to continue to do so over the next five years. Anti-smoking legislation and the huge potential patient population are all driving the market even as the number of new smokers and the overall smoking population decline in Europe and the US. Should any companies in the future crack the Asian markets, this also offers a massive opportunity.

Amy Baker is a Life Science Analyst from GBI Research

Fading light: smoking on the decrease. Photograph: Getty Images

Amy Baker is a Life Science Analyst at GBI Research.

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Why the Liberal Democrats by-election surge is not all it seems

The Lib Dems chalked up impressive results in Stoke and Copeland. But just how much of a fight back is it?

By the now conventional post-Brexit logic, Stoke and Copeland ought to have been uniquely inhospitable for the Lib Dems. 

The party lost its deposit in both seats in 2015, and has no representation on either council. So too were the referendum odds stacked against it: in Stoke, the so-called Brexit capital of Britain, 70 per cent of voters backed Leave last June, as did 62 per cent in Copeland. And, as Stephen has written before, the Lib Dems’ mini-revival has so far been most pronounced in affluent, Conservative-leaning areas which swung for remain. 

So what explains the modest – but impressive – surges in their vote share in yesterday’s contests? In Stoke, where they finished fifth in 2015, the party won 9.8 per cent of the vote, up 5.7 percentage points. They also more than doubled their vote share in Copeland, where they beat Ukip for third with 7.3 per cent share of the vote.

The Brexit explanation is a tempting and not entirely invalid one. Each seat’s not insignificant pro-EU minority was more or less ignored by most of the national media, for whom the existence of remainers in what we’re now obliged to call “left-behind Britain” is often a nuance too far. With the Prime Minister Theresa May pushing for a hard Brexit and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn waving it through, Lib Dem leader Tim Farron has made the pro-EU narrative his own. As was the case for Charles Kennedy in the Iraq War years, this confers upon the Lib Dems a status and platform they were denied as the junior partners in coalition. 

While their stance on Europe is slowly but surely helping the Lib Dems rebuild their pre-2015 demographic core - students, graduates and middle-class professionals employed in the public sector – last night’s results, particularly in Stoke, also give them reason for mild disappointment. 

In Stoke, campaign staffers privately predicted they might manage to beat Ukip for second or third place. The party ran a full campaign for the first time in several years, and canvassing returns suggested significant numbers of Labour voters, mainly public sector workers disenchanted with Corbyn’s stance on Europe, were set to vote Lib Dem. Nor were they intimidated by the Brexit factor: recent council by-elections in Sunderland and Rotheram, which both voted decisively to leave, saw the Lib Dems win seats for the first time on massive swings. 

So it could well be argued that their candidate, local cardiologist Zulfiqar Ali, ought to have done better. Staffordshire University’s campus, which Tim Farron visited as part of a voter registration drive, falls within the seat’s boundaries. Ali, unlike his Labour competitor Gareth Snell and Ukip leader Paul Nuttall, didn’t have his campaign derailed or disrupted by negative media attention. Unlike the Tory candidate Jack Brereton, he had the benefit of being older than 25. And, like 15 per cent of the electorate, he is of Kashmiri origin.  

In public and in private, Lib Dems say the fact that Stoke was a two-horse race between Labour and Ukip ultimately worked to their disadvantage. The prospect of Nuttall as their MP may well have been enough to convince a good number of the Labour waverers mentioned earlier to back Snell. 

With his party hovering at around 10 per cent in national polls, last night’s results give Farron cause for optimism – especially after their near-wipeout in 2015. But it’s easy to forget the bigger picture in all of this. The party have chalked up a string of impressive parliamentary by-election results – second in Witney, a spectacular win in Richmond Park, third in Sleaford and Copeland, and a strong fourth in Stoke. 

However, most of these results represent a reversion to, or indeed an underperformance compared to, the party’s pre-2015 norm. With the notable exception of Richmond’s Sarah Olney, who only joined the Lib Dems after the last general election, these candidates haven’t - or the Lib Dem vote - come from nowhere. Zulfiqar Ali previously sat on the council in Stoke and had fought the seat before, and Witney’s Liz Leffman and Sleaford’s Ross Pepper are both popular local councillors. And for all the excited commentary about Richmond, it was, of course, held by the Lib Dems for 13 years before Zac Goldsmith won it for the Tories in 2010. 

The EU referendum may have given the Lib Dems a new lease of life, but, as their #LibDemFightback trope suggests, they’re best understood as a revanchist, and not insurgent, force. Much has been said about Brexit realigning our politics, but, for now at least, the party’s new normal is looking quite a lot like the old one.