MAJOR Southampton employer British American Tobacco (BAT) says it has seen record numbers of customers for its alternatives to smoking.

The company said it added 1.4million customers in the first quarter of this year for its “new categories” segment of the market.

These include its vaping products Vuse and Vype and its tobacco-free nicotine pouches, Velo.

BAT – which employs around 1,200 people at Regents Park Road in Southampton – expects revenue to rise by more than five per cent this year.

It had previously predicted growth of three to five per cent.

But the company, which makes Lucky Strike and Camel cigarettes, said it did not expect a recovery in duty-free sales of cigarettes until 2022, because of travel restrictions.

Jack Bowles, chief executive of BAT, said 2021 would be a “pivotal year for the business”.

He said the group was on track to see its new categories business become profitable by 2025.

This would be driven by £5billion of new categories revenues within the same time frame, with the group continuing to spend heavily on new products in the sector.

Mr Bowles said: “We are accelerating our transformation with increased investment capitalising on our growing momentum in the new categories and a record quarter for consumer acquisition.

“This, together with our strong business performance, is reflected in our upgraded group revenue growth guidance of above five per cent for 2021.”

In its first half trading update, BAT said its traditional cigarette sales were set to be ahead of the wider industry, which is on course for a slump of around three per cent in sales by volume.

Tadeu Marroco, BAT’s finance and transformation director, said: “We are successfully building our enterprise of the future, supporting our ambition to become a high growth multi-category consumer products company, rapidly growing our new categories and encouraging smokers who would otherwise continue to smoke to switch completely to scientifically substantiated reduced risk alternatives.”

Southampton is the centre of BAT’s global research and development and supply chain functions, as well as providing jobs in finance and global travel retail.