Philippines President Rodrigo R. Duterte, who once forced a tourist to stub out his cigarette and eat it, is on a mission.

The erratic leader, who has become known for his occasionally inappropriate behavior and insults of President Barack Obama, is likely to sign an executive order that will impose a smoking ban throughout the country, where Marlboro owner Philip Morris International(PM) - Get Report  does a good deal of business. Shares of Philip Morris rose close to 1% in Friday trading. 

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The order would make all public places 100% smoke-free. The ban underscores a serious problem for Phillip Morris and other tobacco companies, which are encountering increasingly stringent smoking laws worldwide. Asia represents a major part of the cigarette business. 

About one third of the Philippines population smokes and Phillip Morris holds roughly 70% of the Philippines cigarette market. But more importantly, the Philippines ban could push other Asian nations to follow suit. The initiative could be a catalyst for the decline of tobacco stocks.

The Southeast Asia region is home to almost 10% of the world's smokers. Philip Morris has a roughly 15% market share on the continent.

Southeast Asia's second-most populous country's ban would be one of the region's toughest anti-tobacco laws.

The Philippines ban covers "vaping" or the use of electronic cigarettes, as well. This product segment, referred to as 'low-risk', has been marketed as an alternative by cigarette companies. The global e-cigarette market is projected to grow to over $50 billion in revenue by 2025. That includes rechargeable e-cigarettes, which have been on the rise.

To be sure, courts might temporarily delay or prevent a ban in the Philippines and in other countries that are contemplating such measures, the trend in Asia and beyond is support for measures that limit smoking, which has been linked to heart problems, cancer and other diseases. 

For tobacco majors, burdened by tobacco tax hikes, the news isn't good.

Philip Morris, Reynolds American, owner of the Camel brand, and British Tobacco are all facing unprecedented challenges. 

Regulatory risks and government policies are an important factor for investors contemplating Big Tobacco. Such trends are worth following carefully. 


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The author is an independent contributor who at the time of publication owned none of the stocks mentioned.