The tobacco economy


It is a treasure in the hands of a few groups that also have the power to influence economic and political choices in different countries of the world. The Big Six are China National Tobacco Corporation, a state monopoly (cigarettes in the world are mostly produced in China, which has 43% of the global market); Philip Morris, of which the legendary Malboro are the most widespread brand, with 16.4% of the market. With the difference of a single percentage point there is Bat, the British american tobacco, another big one that has offices all over the world. Finally, Japan Tobacco International, Imperial Tobacco and Altadis follow.

They are financial results for a thousand nights thanks to the fact that cigarettes (and other tobacco products like cigars, papers, snuff) are also the most publicized products among consumer goods. On the other hand, the big gains are based on a marketing expenditure that is difficult to quantify, but that is around tens of billions of dollars a year. In the United States alone, for example, around 10 billion cigarettes are spent each year (at a time when advertising has been banned on TV and radio, along with other bans).

According to WHO data, the annual average spending on the promotion of multinationals is around $ 200 per smoker. Where is all this money spent? The vehicles are today very diversified, but in general they revolve around forms of sponsorship or direct promotion of sporting, artistic, fashion, adventure travel events, in addition to the evergreen method of product placement in films and now also on the web. Without forgetting the so-called charity, that is the presence in charity events and the birth of icons like the man Malboro, the king of adventure, one of the myths of the twentieth century.

About two million workers in the world produce this treasure, of which 2/3 are in China, which is the largest tobacco grower together with India, Brazil and Indonesia ( see the distribution of cigarette factories in the world, from The tobacco atlas).
In recent years there has been a greater spread in Eastern Europe and in many developing countries in Africa and Asia. The reason is linked to the very low cost of labor, to less controls on the use of pesticides (which cause damage to the health of those who work and live there) and to the monoculture that depletes the soil. So much so that the cultivation of tobacco in some countries has become the main item of GDP: this is the case of Malawi, a state in south-east Africa where there has been a jump in export earnings from 50 to 70 percent between 2007 and 2008. until the 2010 boom result, the year in which he was the world's largest producer of Burley tobacco. A problem for the country: when there should be a decline, the economy would come into serious crisis because there are no alternatives, and it is precisely on this that the Big Six leverage.
This type of lever is well known in European countries that cultivate tobacco, precisely because of delocalization. It is for example the case of Italy, where the decline in the production of Burley tobacco led to a recent agreement between Coldiretti of Tuscany, Veneto, Umbria and Campania (the Italian tobacco regions) with Philipp Morris Italia for a "production at km 0 "which finally saved more than 50 thousand jobs.

What's behind a cigarette? Dizzying figures. Starting from the 6 trillion (6, 000 billion) cigarettes produced in the world, a number - astronomical - that alone can give the idea of ​​the business of smoking . And it is exponentially increasing: 13% more than 10 years ago. On the other hand, smokers are also on the rise: according to WHO data, there will be about 2.2 billion by 2050, another dizzying increase given that previous research (2010) recorded 1.4 billion "smokers".

Growing numbers also because the tobacco multinationals have no scruples in capturing even the very young: for example, in the US the market share of under-18s of one of the most famous cigarette brands has jumped from less than 1% to 33% in three years thanks to an advertising campaign that featured a cartoon character as protagonist.
Numbers that will increase even more a turnover of already hundreds of billions of dollars each year: the profitability of tobacco consumption in 2010 was 346.2 billion dollars, for a net profit of 35.1 billion. To give you an idea, you get the same amount if you add up the 2010 profits of Coca-Cola, Microsoft and McDonald's, three other big giants ( source : The tobacco atlas, of the World Lung Foundation).