THE STRONG pound and ongoing trouble in the Middle East were behind a decline in cigarette sales during the fourth quarter, according to Imperial Tobacco. Tobacco sales for the quarter were down four per cent, despite an increase in its growth brands, such as Davidoff and Gauloises, which had volumes up 11 per cent and revenue up 15 per cent on the same period last year. The company cited further problems with the timing of pricing activity in a number of markets and the mixed impact of lower sales of mass market cigars in the US ahead of a brand re-launch, combined with trouble in Iraq and the strong pound. All these resulted in a decline in tobacco net revenue of one per cent on the same period last year to £1.5bn. The world’s fourth-largest international tobacco group won shareholder approval to acquire the US brands Maverick and Salem as well as the e-cigarette brand Blu, subject to regulatory approval. The company said it expects to deliver further incremental savings of £85m in 2015 through a number of initiatives that are reducing complexity in the business and remain on track to save £300m per annum from September 2018.