New TCRG research on British American Tobacco in Iran


A new paper from the Tobacco Control Research Group investigates British American Tobacco (BAT)’s activities in Iran. In 2021, BAT stated it “had agreed to dispose of” its subsidiary in Iran, without providing further detail as to the reasons for the departure from a country in which it held the second largest market share, and generated approximately £170 million in revenue and £60 million in profit in 2020.

In April 2023, following a criminal investigation by US authorities, BAT agreed to pay penalties exceeding US$629 million to resolve charges bank fraud and sanctions violations charges in North Korea, another country facing international sanctions. In a press release, BAT stated in response that “adhering to rigorous compliance and ethics standard has been, and remains, a top priority”.

Using internal BAT documents covering 2000-2014, the paper – through the case study of Iran – tests the credibility of BAT’s claim. The authors point to BAT’s potential involvement in illicit tobacco trade, and explain how BAT’s extensive engagement with government authorities to tackle illicit trade focused primarily on reputational and commercial purposes, at the expense of controlling its own supply chain.

Lead author Benoît Gomis notes:

“BAT and other TTCs routinely operate in countries under sanctions (e.g., PMI and JTI in Russia), only leave reluctantly following significant public pressure (e.g., BAT in Myanmar, Belarus, or Russia), or in the case of BAT in North Korea, publicly stated they had left in 2007 but in fact continued conducting business illegally in the country through a third party for another decade, in violation of US sanctions. Thanks to our access to internal BAT documents pertaining to Iran, we were able to investigate some of BAT’s business and political operations in the country. We conclude that further investigation – including for potential sanctions breaching – may be warranted.”

Read the paper:
Sanctions and Illicit Trade: British American Tobacco’s Activities in Iran (2000-2014), B. Gomis, A.W.A. Gallagher, R. Alebshehy, A.  Rowell, Journal of Illicit Economies and Development, Published Online First: 30 January 2024, doi: 10.31389/jied.223

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