NEW YORK — The Marlboro men are discussing a reunion as the number of smokers continues to decline worldwide.
Altria confirmed Tuesday that it is in talks to merge with Philip Morris International, more than a decade after splitting itself into two companies.
Altria has exclusively sold Marlboro cigarettes and other tobacco brands in the U.S., while Philip Morris has handled international sales.
The combined company would have a market capitalization of over $200 billion, making it the largest publicly traded tobacco company worldwide.
Philip Morris said Tuesday that there is no guarantee of success in what would be an all-stock deal. But analysts said the merger is likely to pass muster with antitrust regulators.
Both companies have been investing in alternatives to traditional cigarettes amid declining use.
The companies are already partnering on the U.S. launch of a heat-not-burn cigarette alternative, iQOS, made by Philip Morris. Separately, Altria has taken a roughly $13 billion-dollar stake in vaping giant Juul, betting on more smokers switching to electronic cigarettes.
If successful, the merger would reunite the two arms of one of the tobacco industry's oldest and biggest brands.
Altria, based in Richmond, Virginia, spun off its international operation in 2008 amid waves of lawsuits and government scrutiny in the U.S. The breakup gave Philip Morris International more leeway to pursue sales growth in emerging markets. Anti-tobacco groups accused the company of maneuvering to unleash its marketing machine on nonsmoking women and children in poor, developing countries.
Since the split, Philip Morris has churned out new Marlboro-branded products catering to local tastes in Asia, Europe, Latin America and other regions, even as both companies invest in alternatives to traditional cigarettes.
Wells Fargo analyst Bonnie Herzog said the combination "would make a lot of sense," allowing the companies to cooperate amid the "global arms race" for non-traditional tobacco products.
The merger has the potential to super-charge Juul's efforts to expand overseas, bolstered by the global marketing power of Philip Morris. The cash infusion from Altria could also help the new company ramp up marketing of the iQOS device in the U.S. and overseas.
Earlier this year Altria executives estimated annual U.S. cigarette volumes would decline between 4% and 6% through 2023, sending company shares down sharply.