Mexico Country Profile

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Image source: Luis Barrios/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Key Points

  • Mexico is a country in North America, covered by the World Health Organization’s Regional Office for the Americas.
  • It has a population of over 127.5 million with current smoking prevalence of 19% amongst the population aged 20 and over.
  • Mexico ratified the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in 2004. It has not joined the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products.
  • The Mexican tobacco market is dominated by the big transnational tobacco companies, particularly Philip Morris International and British American Tobacco.
  • Recent tobacco industry tactics in Mexico include the use of third parties; the targeting of youth with marketing for newer nicotine and tobacco products, particularly on social media; and corporate social responsibility, including during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mexico significantly reduced smoking prevalence between 2002-2009, in the years around ratification of the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC).123 However, between 2009 and 2016 there was no further progress. This may be explained by ongoing industry interference, such as on price and tax; the introduction and rapid growth of flavour capsule cigarettes; as well as challenges involved with implementation of Mexico’s main tobacco control law.34 In more recent years, Mexico has redoubled its efforts, passing a major amendment to its tobacco control law in 2021 which significantly increased compliance with the WHO FCTC.5 Mexico now has some of the most comprehensive tobacco control regulation in the world.56

Tobacco Use in Mexico

In 2022, the population of Mexico was over 127.5 million.7 According to the 2021 National Health and Nutrition Survey on COVID-19 (ENSANUT), prevalence of current smoking in the Mexican population aged 20 and over was just over 19%. There is significant difference between males and females, with nearly 30% of men reporting current smoking compared to around 9% of women. Prevalence of current smoking amongst Mexican youth aged from 10 to 19 was less than 5%, with 7.5% of males in this age range smoking compared to less than 2% of females.8

There were an estimated 48,400 deaths attributable to smoking in 2019, accounting for 6.6% of all mortality in Mexico that year.9 A study published in 2021 estimated the total cost of tobacco use to the Mexican economy at US$8.2 billion per year. US$5.1 billion is spent on treating diseases associated with tobacco use – equivalent to 9.3% of the annual health budget. The US$1.9 billion that Mexico receives in revenue from the tobacco industry covers just 38% of the burden of tobacco use.10

Since 2008, Mexico has prohibited sale, distribution and promotion of any product that resembles a cigarette, which has been applied to e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products (see section “Roadmap to Tobacco Control”).1112 Even so, in the 2021 ENSANUT survey, current use of e-cigarette by adults aged 20 and over was 1.6% (2.5% for males; 0.7% for females). Amongst youth aged 10 to 19, prevalence was slightly higher, at 1.8% (2.4% for males; 1.1% for females).8 A 2022 survey by the National Commission Against Addictions estimated that five million Mexicans between the ages of 12 and 65 had used e-cigarettes at some point, with 975,000 being current users.13

Tobacco in Mexico

Market share and leading brands

In 2022, market research company Euromonitor International estimated the Mexican tobacco market to be worth nearly 89 billion Mexican pesos (US$4.5 billion), mostly accounted for by cigarette sales.14 The market is dominated by the big transnational tobacco companies (TTCs), particularly Philip Morris International (PMI) and British American Tobacco (BAT), and to a much lesser extent Japan Tobacco International (JTI). Between them, these three companies accounted for virtually all legal cigarette sales in 2022. PMI is the market leader with just over 60%, followed by BAT with just under 36%. JTI’s share was 4%.15

As of 2022, the top six brands in Mexico were all manufactured by either PMI or BAT. By far the most popular cigarette was PMI’s premium brand Marlboro, with a market share of over 48%. This was followed by BAT’s mid-range cigarette Pall Mall, with under 22%. All other brands had a share of less than 10%.16

The use of flavour capsule cigarettes is particularly high in several Latin American countries, including Mexico, where their share of the market has risen year on year since 2012.17 Although they were only introduced in 2011, flavour capsule cigarettes accounted for nearly 28% of the cigarette market in 2022 – amongst the highest proportions in the world.318 Research has shown that flavour capsules increase the appeal of cigarettes and stimulate a desire to try them, particularly amongst young people.1819

Tobacco farming and child labour

Tobacco growing in Mexico has fallen considerably since 1980, when it produced nearly 94,000 tonnes of leaf, to under 7,000 tonnes in 2010 (see Figure 1). However, in 2010 production started to increase again, rising to over 15,000 tonnes by 2012, since when the figure has remained roughly stable.20

Figure 1: Mexican tobacco production, 1961 to 2020.21 Source: UN Food and Agriculture Organization/Our World in Data | CC BY

Similarly, in 1980 the harvested area was 42,000 hectares, falling to 4,000 hectares in 2010, but up to 7,000 in 2020.20

A series of exposés in the 1990s revealed widespread use of child labour on Mexico tobacco farms, as well as the use of banned agrochemicals and poor living and working conditions for tobacco pickers. While the industry claims much has changed since then, an investigation by The Guardian in 2018 found children working on seven out of the ten farms the report visited in the state of Nayarit, Mexico’s main tobacco growing region. The farms featured in the investigation were supplying PMI, BAT and Universal Leaf Tobacco.22

Tobacco and the economy

Mexico is a net exporter both of tobacco leaf and cigarettes. According to UN Comtrade, it exported approximately US$7.1 million in raw tobacco in 2022, compared to around US$2.4 million in imports.2324

A 2021 report on the impacts of tobacco tax, published by the Center of Research on Food and Development (CIAD), which bases its calculations on the Secretariat of Economy’s Online Tariff Information System, puts the figure for cigarette exports in 2019 at close to US$180 million, compared to imports of over $10 million.25 This corresponds to customs data from Descartes Datamyne, which put cigarette exports for 2020 at over $168 million, compared to imports of US$10.7 million.26 However, the Comtrade figure for cigarette exports in 2020 is much lower.27 No import data is available on Comtrade for that year.

According to the CIAD report, seventy per cent of Mexican cigarette exports served the Canadian market, 15% the Colombian market, and 11% Central American markets.25 Customs data also indicates these are the main export destinations for cigarettes manufactured in Mexico.26

The CIAD report also states that the tobacco industry is a relatively small sector of the Mexican economy, employing just 0.1% of the national workforce in 2018.25

Illicit trade

In a 2021 study which measured the Mexican illicit tobacco trade using two methodologies, illicit cigarettes accounted for 8.8% of total consumption based on an analysis of discarded packs, and 7.6% based on a survey of smokers. Both results are significantly lower than the figure of 16.6% which is widely publicised by the tobacco industry.28 While the figures obtained via both methodologies represent an increase from previous estimates of illicit cigarette consumption – 0.5% in 2009 and 2.7% in 2015 – they are lower than the global average and lower than the figure for other countries in Latin America such as Brazil, Chile and Uruguay.2930 A previous study also found wide geographical variation across the country: for example, in Hermosillo, Sonora, just 0.3% of total cigarette consumption was illicit, while in León, Guanajato, the figure was as high as 27.5%.29

There is also an illegal e-cigarette market. Between January 2021 and June 2022, Mexican authorities seized over 60,000 devices, suspending the activities of nearly 180 retail outlets.31

Tobacco and the environment

Mexico produces around 40 billion cigarettes annually. This consumes between 109 and 205 billion litres of water and between 73 and 114 million kilowatts of energy. It also generates CO2 emissions of between 20,000 and 29,000 tonnes. Around 55 million cigarette butts are discarded every day in Mexico, at an estimated cost of close to US$140 million annually.32

Roadmap to Tobacco Control

Mexico was the first country in the Americas to ratify the WHO FCTC in 2004.2 However, it has not joined the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products.33

In 2008, The General Law on Tobacco Control came into force, containing most of the provisions established in the WHO FCTC.34 However, it left some significant loopholes. While smoking was completely prohibited indoors in primary and secondary schools, and in federal government facilities, workplaces and other buildings with public access were permitted to provide designated smoking areas. Similarly, the law banned most forms of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, but made an exception in cases where it was aimed exclusively at adults.35 Some stricter regulation was introduced at subnational level. For example, Mexico City passed its own 100% smokefree law in February 2008 and in the following years 14 states followed suit.3637

In 2021, the Mexican Senate unanimously approved a key amendment to the 2008 General Law, which banned smoking in all enclosed public spaces and workplaces, as well as banning all forms of tobacco advertising.5 A further update, which came into force in January 2023, extended smoke-free legislation even to open-air environments where there may be public gatherings, such as parks, beaches and restaurant terraces. It also bans the display of tobacco products in all retail outlets.63839 With these two measures, Mexico made important progress towards full compliance with the WHO FCTC.5

Mexico has taken a tough stance on newer nicotine and tobacco products. Since 2008, there has been a ban on any product that resembles a cigarette.404142 Regulators have applied this law to e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products (HTPs), but it has been contested by both retailers and tobacco companies.1140 In 2020, the government banned imports of e-cigarettes and HTPs, bringing customs law into line with existing health regulations.43 Though a decree published by the Secretariat of Economy in July 2021 created an exception for HTPs, this was reversed by a new presidential decree in October of the same year.4445

Finally, on World No Tobacco Day in May 2022, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador signed a decree imposing a total ban on “circulation and marketing” of e-cigarettes and HTPs. This effectively makes the import and sale of these products illegal in Mexico.4046

For more details, please see the following websites:

Tobacco Industry Interference in Mexico

Tobacco industry tactics in Mexico include the use of third parties; the targeting of youth with marketing for newer nicotine and tobacco products, particularly on social media; and corporate social responsibility, including during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Use of third parties

Tobacco companies often lobby via industry and trade associationsthink tanksfront groups and other third parties, including public relations (PR) companies and professional lobbyists.

In Mexico, the Confederación Patronal de la República Mexicana (COPARMEX) is an employers’ union, which brings together businesses of all sizes and from all sectors.47 In 2021, Philip Morris International (PMI) listed COPARMEX as one of the business and trade organisations in which it held a leadership role.48

In May 2022, Mexico held a public consultation on an update to its revised tobacco control law, regarding proposals to completely ban the display of tobacco products at points of sale, and to further restrict designated smoking areas to limited open-air environments.38 COPARMEX’s submission to the consultation argued that cost of implementing these measures would be high and adversely impact the owners of small businesses; that the proposals violated the right to free trade; and that they would fuel the growth of the illicit trade.49

The National Tobacco Industry Council (CONAINTA) – which consists of PMI, BAT and JTI – also opposed these measures, arguing that they would have a negative impact on the national economy, including on tobacco growing communities; that they violated consumer rights; and that they would endanger jobs and investment.50 In 2023, the president of CONAINTA warned that there would be a “storm” of legal appeals against the updated tobacco control law.51

Controversial marketing: targeting youth

The tobacco industry has long seen young people as a vital target market; tobacco use generally starts in adolescence. According to the 2016-7 National Survey of Drugs, Alcohol and Tobacco Consumption, the average age of initiation for daily tobacco consumption in Mexico was less than 20 years old.52

Mexican media have documented tobacco companies targeting young people with marketing for newer nicotine and tobacco products via social media. From around 2018, industry hashtags – such as #FuturoSinHumo (“#SmokeFreeFuture”) and #EligeElCambio (“#ChooseChange” – both PMI) and #vypefriends and #govype (both BAT) began to appear on posts by popular Mexican actors, influencers, comedians and others.5354 Products such as PMI’s HTP IQOS and BAT’s e-cigarette Vype (since rebranded as Vuse) featured visibly in this content, though often company sponsorship was not made explicit.53

Even before the General Law on Tobacco Control was amended in late 2021, it prohibited tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship in all but three circumstances: in adult magazines, in adult-only establishments, or in personal correspondence to adults via post. It also specifically prohibited the online marketing of tobacco products.35 According to a lawyer at the Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas, “these products must comply with the General Law on Tobacco Control, which clearly establishes a near-total ban on this publicity.”53

A 2022 study on exposure to e-cigarette advertising and the social acceptability of e-cigarette use in Mexico identified online advertising as one of the channels of exposure most significantly associated with a higher likelihood of perceiving e-cigarettes as socially acceptable.55 According to a researcher at the National Institute of Public Health – one of the authors of the study – the industry’s aim is the “renormalization” of nicotine consumption amongst young people.53

The tobacco industry has also sponsored motorsports in Mexico. In the 2022 Mexico City Grand Prix, held in October, the McLaren cars displayed BAT’s Vuse branding – in an apparent violation of the comprehensive ban on e-cigarettes brought in just months beforehand.56 Motorsport sponsorship is a longstanding and well-documented promotional strategy aimed at young people, particularly boys and young men.57

Corporate social responsibility

Tobacco companies often use corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives to enhance their public image and corporate reputation.

In 2018, PMI’s local subsidiary Philip Morris México (PMM) set up a partnership with a local start-up, Eco Filter, which uses biotechnology to recycle cigarette butts.5358 This partnership involves clean-up and collection initiatives which target young people, with events taking place at concerts, parks and universities. Eco Filter also delivers presentations to young people in which it displays PMI logos, and has used the social media hashtag and PMI slogan #FuturoSinHumo.5359 Eco Filter states that it does not promote PMI’s products or encourage nicotine consumption amongst young people.53

In 2021, Eco Filter opened a new factory in Guadalajara, Jalisco, with support from PMM.5860 It will process waste from PMM’s manufacturing facility near Guadalajara, as well as cigarette butts from the street.6162

Both PMI and BAT carried out extensive corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities in Mexico during the COVID-19 pandemic. In May 2020, PMI donated electric beds, vital signs monitors and ventilators to a hospital in Guadalajara. PMI also donated money for personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare professionals, and meals to a public welfare institution.63 BAT joined a programme called UNIR y DAR (“UNITE and GIVE”) with other local companies in Nuevo León, where BAT México is headquartered. As part of an initiative called #RespiraNL, these companies made donations for PPE.64 BAT also provided food supplies in Guadalupe, Nuevo León.65

There are also CSR initiatives on child labour in Mexico. For example, since 2001 BAT has run a programme called “Florece” (meaning “Blossom” or “Flourish” in English), which provides day centres for the children of workers in the tobacco fields of Nayarit.6667

Tobacco Tactics Resources

TCRG Research

For a comprehensive list of all TCRG publications, including research that evaluates the impact of public health policy, go to TCRG publications.

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References

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