Altria and others are focusing on cigarette alternatives â¿¿ such as cigars, snuff and chewing tobacco â¿¿ for future sales growth because the decline in cigarette smoking is expected to continue.

Volumes of its smokeless tobacco brands such as Copenhagen and Skoal rose about 3 percent during the quarter and the brands had 55 percent of the market, which is tiny compared with cigarettes.

Altria said inventory changes and retail share losses drove volumes for its Black & Mild cigars down nearly 17 percent during the quarter.

The company also owns a wine business, holds a voting stake in brewer SABMiller, and has a financial services division.

During the latest quarter, Altria said it repurchased 1.7 million shares for a total cost of about $57 million, completing its $1.5 billion share buyback program. It said Thursday its board has authorized a new $300 million share repurchase program, which it expects to complete by the end of 2013.

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Michael Felberbaum can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/MLFelberbaum.

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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