While we have cut smoking prevalence in half in two generations here in the United States, the tobacco industry has increasingly targeted new customers overseas, especially in poorer countries. Often, marketing practices that would be illegal here – cartoons, toys, free samples – are employed to hook children as early as grade school into a (shortened) lifetime of addiction and disease. In addition to the massive damage to health and development this causes – an estimated 1 billion will die this century unless drastic action is taken – these profits are sent back to the U.S. and used for marketing, lobbying and political donations.
In 2010 (the last year for which we have full figures), global tobacco industry revenue reached $664 billion. Revenue for Philip Morris International alone dwarfed the gross domestic product of the majority of countries.
For more information on the industry and how they use their riches to thwart tobacco regulation, go to Eye on Tobacco Industry.