Tobacco companies, like any corporation, see their workers and factories only as means to profits. Tobacco products are made as attractive and addictive as possible, so tobacco control must take active steps to limit product appeal.

Once raw tobacco leaf has been grown by a farmer and sold to a manufacturer, it must be processed into a desirable consumer product. To maximize profits, tobacco manufacturers want to make products that are as attractive and addictive as possible. The product standards governing this process of transformation aim to control tobacco products’ characteristics and which kinds of tobacco products can be sold to consumers.

When these standards are written with public health in mind, tobacco products can be mandated to be less attractive and less addictive to users. Such strategies include bans on characterizing flavors, limits on nicotine content, and prohibitions against additives that quicken nicotine’s absorption into the body. Additional policies include freezing the tobacco market by preventing the introduction of new brands, restricting a brand to a single presentation to prevent implicit suggestions of reduced harm in variants, and requiring the disclosure of ingredients to regulatory agencies and consumers.

Banning the addition of menthol, the most widely used flavor in tobacco products, has considerable potential to curb smoking. Research suggests that menthol in cigarettes may facilitate initiation and hinder quitting. Fortunately, laws banning the sale of menthol in tobacco products have passed in Brazil, Turkey, Ethiopia, the European Union, and five Canadian provinces.

While manufacturing standards that limit the appeal and addictiveness of products hold the promise of shrinking the tobacco market in the long run, there can be unintended consequences if such regulations do not carefully consider the broader tobacco product marketplace. For example, the market position of existing varieties of cigarettes became solidified when they were exempted from pre-market scrutiny under the United States’ law extending the Food and Drug Administration’s jurisdiction to cover tobacco products. Cigarette manufacturers were permitted to keep selling a deadly consumer product with only some restrictions, while barriers to the introduction of new potentially less harmful products were codified.

Meanwhile, the global tobacco industry has recently consolidated through privatization, acquisitions and mergers—now only 5 firms control 80% of the global cigarette market. These firms have automated and consolidated their own factories, steadily driving down the number of employees. Hence, now more than ever, when tobacco companies say that tobacco control policies threaten manufacturing jobs, we must remember that they are only in the business of maximizing their profits for shareholders, not protecting the well-being of their workers.


Bad Practice

Free Trade Zone Cigarette Factories

One-third of illicit cigarette manufacturing facilities are located in free trade zones of the United Arab Emirates, Cyprus, and Russia, producing cigarettes that are smuggled into third-party countries, undermining tobacco control policy.


Photo Credit: Free Trade Zone Factories “Jebel Ali Port 2” by Imre Solt under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license, without modification.

Wikimedia: Jebel Ali Free Trade Zone in UAE
Ross H et al. A closer look at ‘Cheap White’ cigarettes. Tob Control. 2015 Sep 28;tobaccocontrol-2015-052540

Good Practice

Resilience Facing Factory Closure

In 2016, British American Tobacco announced it would close its Petaling Jaya, Malaysia factory to consolidate manufacturing region, blaming high excise taxes on cigarettes. Malaysia did not bow to industry pressure to change its laws to try to save a factory.


Photo Credit: BAT Factory, Petaling Jaya ©Malay Mail. Reprinted with permission.

The Star, 2016: The BAT Petaling Jaya cigarette factory

Cutting Edge Practice

Mandatory De-Nicotinization

The United States FDA has begun proposing a rule mandating cigarette manufacturers lower nicotine levels to non-addictive or minimally addictive levels, potentially preventing millions from becoming addicted.


Photo Credit: FDA Sign and Bldg 21 US Food and Drug Administration, public domain.

Berman M. The FDA’s Big (?) Announcement on Nicotine Regulation. Notice & Comment. 2017.
Gottlieb S, Zeller M. A Nicotine-Focused Framework for Public Health. N Engl J Med. 2017 Aug 16
Douglas CE. Taking aim at the bull’s-eye: the nicotine in tobacco products. Tob Control. 1998 Sep 1;7(3):215–8.

Where disease originates

World's Largest-Producing Tobacco Product Factories

Profits per Death

In 2015, the world's 6 largest cigarette manufacturers made a profit of more than $62 billion and cigarettes killed more than 6.4 million people, or put another way, $9730 of profit per death.


Patricio V. Marquez, China’s 2015 tobacco tax adjustment: a step in the right direction

Altria Group, Inc., 2016 Annual Report

Japan Tobacco Inc., Annual Report FY2016

Imperial Brands, Delivering against our strategy, Annual report and accounts 2016

British American Tobacco, Delivering today, Investing in tomorrow, Annual Report 2016$FILE/medMDAKAJCS.pdf?openelement

Philip Morris International, 2016 Annual Report