British American Tobacco (BAT) has reacted with surprise to claims that it may open a chain of Benson & Hedges-branded coffee shops.

The Sunday Times has described the move as a way for the company to circumvent the planned Europe-wide ban on cigarette advertising and sponsorship scheduled for 2006.

BAT does run a Benson & Hedges Bistro in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, serving B&H Quality Brand coffee. But a spokeswoman for BAT in the UK said that this initiative was set up by its Malaysian company back in 1994 and she was unaware of any plans to roll the concept out internationally.

She added that such a move would be complicated by the fact that BAT does not own the B&H brand in many countries, including all of western Europe - in the UK, for example, it is owned by Gallaher.

BAT does, however, operate a number of spin-off products using its cigarette brands, such as Lucky Strike clothing, John Player Special whisky and the Kent Travel, travel agency.

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