Tobacco Industry Profits Estimated $35 Billion With Almost 6 Million Annual Deaths

a lit cigarette
Tobacco use is one of the main preventable risk factors for cancer. In 2010, tobacco industry’s profit was equivalent to US $6,000 for each death caused by tobacco. 43 trillion cigarettes have been smoked in the last decade.

The Tobacco Atlas, Fourth Edition, and its companion website, were unveiled by the American Cancer Society and World Lung Foundation at the 15th World Conference on Tobacco OR Health. The Atlas graphically details the scale of the tobacco epidemic, progress that has been made in tobacco control, and the latest products and tactics being deployed by the highly profitable tobacco industry – such as the use of new media, trade litigation, and aggressive development of smokeless products.

Tobacco Industry Profits Greater Than Ever

According to The Tobacco Atlas, estimates of revenues from the global tobacco industry likely approach a half trillion U.S. dollars annually. In 2010, the combined profits of the six leading tobacco companies was U.S. $35.1 billion, equal to the combined profits of Coca-Cola, Microsoft, and McDonald’s in the same year. If Big Tobacco were a country, it would have a gross domestic product (GDP) of countries like Poland, Saudi Arabia, Sweden and Venezuela.

The Most Preventable Cause of Death

In 2011, according to The Tobacco Atlas, tobacco use killed almost 6 million people, with nearly 80% of these deaths occurring in low- and middle-income countries. When considering 2010 deaths with tobacco industry revenue, the tobacco industry realizes almost $6,000 in profit for each death caused by tobacco.

If trends continue, one billion people will die from tobacco use and exposure during the 21st century – one person every six seconds. Globally, tobacco-related deaths have nearly tripled in the past decade, and tobacco is responsible for more than 15% of all male deaths and 7% of female deaths. Tobacco is also a for the four leading noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) – cancer, heart disease, diabetes and respiratory diseases – which account for more than 63% of global deaths according to the World Health Organization.

Tobacco use is the number one killer in China, causing 1.2 million deaths annually; this is expected to rise to 3.5 million deaths annually by the year 2030. Tobacco is also responsible for the greatest proportion of male deaths in Turkey (38%) and Kazakhstan (35%), and the greatest proportion of female deaths in the Maldives (25%) and the United States (23%).

Uniquely among cancer-causing agents, however, tobacco is a man-made problem that is completely preventable through proven public policies. Effective measures include tobacco taxes, advertising bans, smoke-free public places, mass media campaigns and effective health warnings. These cost-effective policies are among those included in the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), a global treaty endorsed by more than 174 countries, and recommended by the World Health Organization in its MPOWER policy package.

The Economic Cost of Tobacco Increases

According to The Tobacco Atlas, countries do not profit economically from tobacco production and consumption – in fact, they suffer great financial harm. The direct costs that arise from health care expenditures for treating smoking-related illnesses and indirect costs that largely include the value of lost productivity and cost of premature deaths caused by smoking-related illnesses can cripple economies:

  • The health damage from a single pack of cigarettes costs US$35 to an American smoker.
  • In Egypt, tobacco-related illness drained over 11% of total health care expenditure.
  • During 2000–2004, the value of cigarettes sold in the United States averaged $71 billion per year, while cigarette smoking was responsible for an estimated $193 billion in annual health-related economic losses.

Tobacco Industry Tactics to Block Progress

More than 43 trillion cigarettes have been smoked in the last ten years and cigarette production has increased by 16.5% in that time period, according to The Tobacco Atlas. Annual cigarette consumption has also increased significantly during this time period.

The tobacco industry has increased its efforts to combat demand reduction efforts, launching legal challenges in every region of the world. Since 2008, it has worked to delay or stop plain packaging, smoke-free legislation, advertising bans and graphic pack warnings.

In addition, the industry has sought to subvert existing tobacco control legislation by introducing new smokeless products, often bearing the same branding as existing cigarette brands, and the use of the Internet and new media, where over 70% of analyzed content has been identified as pro-tobacco.

Burden Shifts to the World’s Poorest Countries

The Tobacco Atlas outlines in graphic detail that the burden of tobacco cultivation, consumption, illness and death is moving from developed to developing parts of the world and is taking an increased toll on low- and middle-income countries:

  • Nearly 80% of those who die from tobacco-related illnesses are in low- and middle-income countries.
  • In 2009, six of the top 10 tobacco-producing countries had malnourishment rates between 5% and 27%.
  • Cigarettes have become an average of 21.7% more affordable in low- and middle-income countries over the past decade.
  • In low-resource countries, only US$0.0001 is spent on tobacco control per capita.
  • 39% of countries – predominantly low- and middle-income countries – do not provide cessation support services in the offices of health professionals.