Business, Economics and Jobs

Tobacco profits top $35 billion globally, new report says


Zimbabwean farmers unload tobacco bales at one of the main auctions in Harare on August 4, 2010.


Desmond Kwande

Tobacco-related deaths have nearly tripled in the last decade, a new report reveals., an anti-smoking website produced by the American Cancer Society and the World Lung Foundation, released a new report Wednesday showing that tobacco companies earned $35.1 billion in profits in 2010 and made $246.2 billion total in revenue. At the same time, deaths from tobacco continue to rise, especially in China.

China National Tobacco Corporation tops the list of most profitable tobacco companies with $91.7 billion in revenue. 

Nearly 80 percent of the people who die from tobacco-related causes are in poor and middle-income countries, the report says.

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Anti-tobacco activists have accused the industry of preying on poor nations where there are fewer regulations. A British American Tobacco spokesperson denied the charges.

"There is constant speculation that we're breaking into emerging markets to avoid regulation," the spokesman told the Guardian. "But this is not true. We didn't invent smoking, nor 'export' it anywhere, and we have been in many of these developing markets for hundreds of years – in the case of Africa, India and Brazil, since the early 1900s."

In 2010 a video of a cigarette-smoking two-year-old boy in Indonesia went viral. The New York Times reported at the time that developing nations such as Indonesia had become incredibly important  to giant tobacco companies. Tobacco companies have even sued the governments of poor countries when tighter regulations on cigarettes were put in place.

“They’re using litigation to threaten low- and middle-income countries,” the head of the World Health Organization's Tobacco Free Initiative told the Times.

The Guardian reported Wednesday that much of the profits made from the tobacco industry go to pension and insurance investors in the United Kingdom.