Fifty years after the 1964 Surgeon General’s report, and 44 years after Congress outlawed TV and radio ads for cigarettes, Marlboro is still selling 111 billion packs of cigarettes a year, good for a 40% share of the market and 32% profit margin.
If someone asked you to name the 10 most profitable consumer products in America, the vast majority of us would rightly assume that the No. 1 spot belonged to a device from the tech world: a computer, smartphone, or tablet. So if your pick for the top spot was Apple’s iPhone, you’re right—the flagship of smartphones dominates the market with a 45% share, generating $91 billion in revenue in 2013 at a profit margin of 41%, according to a 2014 report by 247wallst.com.
But what about No. 2? You might think the runner-up comes from one of the other industry giants like Microsoft, GE, or even Apple again. But if you’re like me, you’d be shocked to find out that, in the year 2014, the second most profitable product in America is the Marlboro cigarette.
That’s right, 44 years after Congress outlawed TV and radio ads for cigarettes, Marlboro is still selling 111 billion packs of cigarettes a year, good for a 40% share of the market and 32% profit margin. The product is more profitable than Coca-Cola (#5), Jack Daniels Tennessee Whiskey (#4), Monster energy drinks (#3), Enfamil infant formula (#6), and Harley-Davidson Motorcycles (#7).
Never mind the news of public smoking bans and dangers of secondhand smoke. 2014 is the 50th anniversary of The Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking, which for the first time outlined the potential hazards of smoking. Its conclusion: you shouldn’t smoke, it will kill you.
That conclusion is still as definitive today as it was in 1964, except that, since then, we’ve added a half-century of research, government regulation, taxes, and “Don’t Smoke” education. And yet, people are still smoking. Not just some people. Lots of people.
According to the CDC, more than 45 million American adults currently smoke—that’s nearly 1-in-5 adults in the United States (18.7%). As a result, over 8 million people are living with a serious illness caused by smoking, and about 438,000 Americans die prematurely each year as a result of tobacco use, the CDC reports.
It’s fair to say those numbers are underestimated. As those in the respiratory care industry know, chronic lung conditions like COPD currently afflict some 12 million Americans, but the number may be even double that—potentially as many as 24 million people, according to the American Lung Association.
Now, cigarette smoking doesn’t cause 100% of lung cancer, emphysema, or chronic bronchitis cases, but the association between them and lighting up is almost guaranteed for anyone smoking for an extended number of years. Unfortunately, while smoking rates are dropping, the success of Big Tobacco brands like Marlboro, Camel, Kool, and others reveals that the hope of a smoke-free America is far from reality.
Mike Fratantoro is chief editor of RT Magazine. For more information contact [email protected]