US tobacco companies
Smoking – and quitting smoking – is big business. According to the American Cancer Society, the average smoker spends $1, 500 a year on tobacco products – representing at least 3% of the average American’s income. Of course, it’s not just an American habit. The major tobacco companies are reaping the benefits of smoking addictions worldwide too, making tens of billions of dollars in profit every year. The CEOs of these companies are, as you’d imagine, among the richest people in the world. Whatever your morals or ideas concerning tobacco, make no mistake – the business is extremely lucrative. Lobbying from the health services has ensured extreme measures have been taken to discourage the habit; those nasty pictures on the front of packets, the ban on advertising and most recently, in Australia, the removal of any and all branding from cigarette packets. The health initiatives have been minimally successful – numbers of smokers are on the decrease – but despite the fact that the tobacco industry is every marketer’s nightmare, the industry is still making unfathomable profit.
The tobacco business doesn’t just exploit addictive personalities; there are questionable practices within the industry itself. The top CEO of a tobacco company makes so much money that it would take a Brazilian tobacco farmer 6 years to earn what the company’s director makes in a single day. To make the CEO’s salary, he would have to farm tobacco for over 2 millenium – a wild income disparity.
The tobacco industry doesn’t make it easy for researchers to analyse; they typically drag their feet when releasing their financial data. The most recent data available in 2014 dates all the way back to 2010 and so many estimates of revenue from the global tobacco industry vary wildly. Most people believe that profits fall, stunningly, in the half-trillion dollar range – so while the tobacco industry is globally villainized, there’s no denying its power. If Big Tobacco was a country it would have the same GDP as Poland! It’s hard to dispute the overall economic impact of the tobacco industry, positive or negative. Governments, too, benefit from this lucrative industry with a comfortable tax revenue generated by cigarette sales. Overall, though, the negative effect on global economies may outweigh the positive due to tobacco’s negative impact on citizens’ health.
A contentious industry at best, tobacco companies are by turns vilified and glamourised – and we’ve selected the richest five of these controverisal international companies, sorted by total revenue reported at the turn of the decade.