Philip Morris said Wednesday it is hastening the closing a plant in North Carolina in response to "ongoing cigarette volume declines."

About 1,100 people will lose their jobs this summer as a result of the closing in Cabarrus County, which Philip Morris first announced two years ago.

Altria Group ( MO), which owns Philip Morris, on Wednesday reported a drop in profit that nonetheless beat Wall Street's expectations. Cigarette sales slipping 8% in the first quarter, and profit including one-time expenses dropped 76%. Earnings excluding one-time expenses were 39 cents per share, 4% lower than earnings from the first quarter of 2008.

Altria shares ended Wednesday trading up 0.7% to $16.85. Competitors British American Tobacco ( BTI) and Reynolds American ( RAI) closed down 1.5% to $46 and 1.1% to $39.09, respectively.

Philip Morris International ( PM), which Altria agreed to spin off in January 2008, reports its quarterly earnings Thursday.

Tobacco companies raised cigarette prices by 11% in March, according to Labor Department data, to help offset a tax increase put into effect in April. The tax, which increased to $1.01 per pack from 39 cents per pack, will be used to fund expansion of a children's health insurance program.

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