Tobacco Companies

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This article focuses on the role of the four transnational tobacco companies (TTCs) in the global tobacco market. It links to detailed pages on each company, and related companies covered on TobaccoTactics, and on the Tobacco Supply Chain database.

For definitions of key terms used on this page see Tobacco Industry: Definitions


Outside China, the global market for tobacco and related products is dominated by four transnational tobacco companies (TTCs), often referred to as ‘Big Tobacco’ or simply ‘the Big Four’:1

Cigarette market shares

According to Euromonitor International, in 2023 the big 4 together accounted for just over 68% of the market for cigarettes by volume, excluding China.3 The global cigarette market (excluding China) was worth over US$ 500 billion.4 The value of the  whole global tobacco and nicotine market was close to US$650 billion, up over US$40 billion since 2022. Around half of the growth value came from cigarettes.4

However, the world’s biggest cigarette manufacturer is the China National Tobacco Corporation (CNTC), a state-owned company which caters mostly to the huge domestic market in China, where it has a virtual monopoly. It has started to expand sales overseas, sometimes through joint ventures with the big 4. In 2023, CNTC accounted for nearly 47% of the total global sales of cigarettes, by volume, while the big 4 global share was just over 36%.3 Research published in 2023 shows that this picture has not changed much in the last decade.5

Figure 1 below shows market shares by company, excluding China.

A pie chart showing the share of cigarette sales by PMI, BAT, JT/JTI, Imperial Brands, Altria and others

Figure 1: Company share of global cigarette sales, 2023, excluding China. (Source: Euromonitor May 2024, figures rounded.)3

In terms of regions, excluding China, the big 4 dominate the cigarette markets in Western Europe and Eastern Europe (which make up 16% and 14% respectively of the global market) and the smaller Latin American market (which accounts for 6%). Other non-TTC companies have bigger shares in the largest regional market, Asia Pacific (which makes up 36% of the global market) and the second largest regional market, the Middle East and Africa (20%). North America makes up 7% of the global market and is dominated by Altria.

However, this is only part of the picture. Research shows that in 2020, out of 90 cigarette markets where TTCs operate, 77 were dominated by one of the TTCs.5 PMI dominated the market in 38 countries, BAT in 24, JTI in 8 and Imperial Brands in 6, while CNTC dominated in China.5

For more information on tobacco company operations in individual countries see the Tobacco Supply Chain database

Other products

Tobacco companies have historically invested in ‘conventional’ products; in addition to cigarettes, these include rolling tobacco (roll-your-own or RYO); cigars and cigarillos; pipe and waterpipe tobacco; and smokeless tobacco (including snus). Between them the big 4 now account for nearly 40% of the market, outside China, for RYO and pipe tobacco (which includes waterpipe). Just under two thirds of the RYO market is held by the big 4, but only one fifth of pipe tobacco. The big 4 have around 30% share for both smokeless tobacco, and cigars and cigarillos. The total value of all these markets combined was approximately US$75 billion (excluding China) in 2023, with around one third of that accounted for by the big 4.3

In recent decades they have increasingly invested in newer nicotine and tobacco products. These include e-cigarettes, heated tobacco products (HTPs), and nicotine pouches.  See the respective product pages for more information including key brands and company market shares.

Tobacco companies have been making claims about their ‘transformation’ and marketing their newer products as ‘smoke-free’, ‘less harmful’ or ‘reduced risk’. Research has shown that these products only form a small proportion of TTC revenue (see below), and that any ‘is driven by the goal of maximising profits rather than reducing smoking.67 There is concern that a harm reduction narrative contributes to renormalizing the tobacco industry’s image, helping it to gain legitimacy and access to policy-makers.89

TTCs continue to consolidate or even expand the production of cigarettes and other conventional tobacco products . For example, in recent years:

  • BAT has opened new factories in Fiji,1011 Zambia,12 and Mali (in partnership with the government);13 and expanded capacity in Bangladesh,14 and Serbia;15
  • PMI opened a new factory in western Ukraine, to replace production lost in the East,1617 and is due to open another in Tanzania.18 It also expanded in Egypt, a key growth market, through licensing and investment deals (see the PMI page for details).19
  • JTI has expanded production in the Philippines,20 Romania,21 and Serbia.22


Tobacco companies report their revenues in their financial reports and presentations to shareholders. Figures for 2023 are presented below in figure 2, based on the most recent publicly available data on the respective company websites. This shows that, for all companies, most revenue comes from the sale of cigarettes and other conventional products they describe as ‘combustible products’.23242526 (Note that all figures are net revenue)

A bar graph showing the total revenues each of the big 4 and the proportion from the sale of combustibles

Figure 2: TTC revenues, 2023, in US$million.(Data source: Company financial reports)23242526


Tobacco remains an extraordinarily profitable industry, a key driver of the global tobacco epidemic.2728

Tobacco companies do not report details of profits by product type, and therefore the profitability of newer products is not clear. However, research suggests that marketing newer products only to existing smokers is not likely to be a viable business model in the longer term, and that tobacco companies do not intend to stop selling cigarettes.29 While tobacco companies are still able to market cigarettes, they will continue to make huge profits, and will continue to use some of those profits to fight tobacco control measures.28


Created after a sequence of mergers and acquisitions, TTCs are economically very powerful globally.283031 They have used their huge financial resources to acquire local competitors and supply chain companies, reducing competition and consolidating their economic power around the world, as well as to fund interference in tobacco control.3032

Undermining tobacco control

There is general consensus in the global tobacco control community that tobacco industry interference is the greatest barrier to progress in reducing tobacco’s deadly toll.33 Article 5.3 of the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), obliges countries to protect their health policies from the “commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry”.

The main goal of the big four tobacco companies, like other transnational corporations, remains the pursuit of profit and the transfer of global wealth to shareholders.34 Research has identified a range of strategies and tactics that tobacco companies use to interfere with and undermine tobacco control policy development, in order to further this goal:353637

  • They employ lobbyists to lobby decision makers – directly and indirectly – in order to prevent, delay, undermine or otherwise influence tobacco control regulation.
  • Much lobbying is conducted via third parties – many can be linked to the tobacco industry, but the funding of others remains unclear.
  • They fund research and scientists, or third parties, to influence scientific debates around tobacco products, smoking and health with consequences for policy. Again, links to the tobacco industry maybe opaque.
  • They fund Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives in order to enhance their reputation and have access to policy makers.
  • They use litigation, or the threat of litigationwhich intimidates governments because of the expense of legal defence.
  • They make political donations and there have been some cases of bribery and corruption.
  • Companies have also been found to be involved in the illicit tobacco trade.

See the page on Tobacco Industry Tactics for an explanation of each tactic and links to examples and further information.

In general there is more political interference in countries where more transnational tobacco and leaf companies grow tobacco or produce cigarettes.38 In these countries TTCs argue to policymakers that livelihoods and the national economy depends on tobacco. However,  independent assessments suggest tobacco generally plays a minor role.3739

Companies also use some of their considerable resources on sophisticated marketing, including via social media, to stimulate local demand for their products. This is increasingly an issue in low and middle-income countries (LMICs) which are critical markets for future profits.2837

Targeting new growth markets in LMICs

As the impacts of tobacco control policies have become apparent, primarily in high-income countries, markets in low and middle-income countries (LMICs) have become increasingly important to the tobacco industry.40 These countries are often more vulnerable to industry tactics, in part due to fewer tobacco control regulations such as mandatory plain packaging, smokefree spaces, or bans on the sale of tobacco near schools.40 41 High levels of industry marketing have been observed in LMICs, targeting previously untapped markets of non-smokers – mainly women and young people.4243 This has been associated with concerning trends of increased tobacco use and tobacco-related disease in LMICs.40444546

While tobacco prevalence in Africa has historically been the lowest out of all WHO regions, many African countries are now seeing increasing rates of tobacco use, particularly among youth.404547 With few countries meeting the standards laid out by the WHO FCTC,48 Africa has been long been identified by the tobacco industry as a key regional market for growth. This is manifest in current high levels of industry interference in many African countries, aggressive marketing strategies and the increasing affordability of tobacco products.40474549

The tobacco trends report indicates that tobacco use is rising in 6 countries which includes the Democratic Republic of Congo in Africa, and three countries in the Eastern Mediterranean Region – Egypt, Jordan and Oman – as well as Indonesia and Moldova.50

Unless measures are taken to combat industry strategies, it is likely that tobacco use will significantly increase in these regions, resulting in a major public health burden in the future.4549

Policy areas

Companies also use lobbying and interference tactics in specific policy areas, in order to influence and undermine tobacco control measures. The areas covered on TobaccoTactics include:

Information on tobacco industry interference in specific countries can be found on the Global Tobacco Industry Interference Index at

Relevant Links

  • Big Tobacco, Big Avoidance, S. Vermuelen, M. Dillen, J. Branston, report 2020, Investigative Desk/University of Bath, available from

TobaccoTactics Resources

Transnational Tobacco Companies

Other Tobacco Companies

TCRG Research

For a comprehensive list of all publications by the Tobacco Control Research Group, including research that evaluates the impact of public health policy, go to Bath TCRG’s list of publications.

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  2. Note Imperial Tobacco in Canada is owned by BAT. UK based Imperial Brands was previously known as Imperial Tobacco but is not connected to BAT. Roland Imperial Tobacco in Zambia is not part of Imperial Brands
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