The global tobacco industry is one of the most profitable and deadly in the world. In 2014, 5.8 trillion cigarettes were sold to more than one billion smokers worldwide, 64% of whom were in the Asia Pacific region (Euromonitor International 2014). Over the next five years it is predicted that the industry will continue to grow, especially in emerging markets, in Asia, the Middle East and Africa, where tobacco companies have taken full advantage of rising populations, increased incomes and lax regulatory environments. If current consumption trends continue, approximately one billion people will die from tobacco use during the twenty-first century (Jha 2009). The tobacco industry also remains a major employer, but, especially in countries such as China or Malawi where tobacco is central to the economy and in addition to causing many premature deaths, the industry has also contributed to deforestation and a reduction in food growing ( The Guardian 2015).
In richer nations tobacco smoking was, until recently, a regular, normal, everyday activity. While smoking rates have passed their peak and substantially declined since the 1970s, social and ethnic inequalities in consumption have risen as smoking has become concentrated among more marginalised groups. In low- and middle-income countries social differences in smoking are also now becoming more apparent, but gender differences remain most significant. Male smoking prevalence rates remain high and approximate those of higher-income countries in the early twentieth century (Thun et al. 2012). By contrast smoking prevalence among women is usually low, but in those countries where cultural constraints have lessened, the number of female smokers is on the rise. These epidemiological trends are paralleled by changes in the global tobacco industry. In higher-income countries contracting markets have meant that tobacco has reduced in significance, both as an agricultural crop and production industry, but in low-income countries this picture is reversed. Understanding such trends and their significance is important not only for public health but also for the future regulation and control of tobacco consumption.
Whilst the use of tobacco can be traced back to around 5000 BCE , and tobacco trade began during the early sixteenth century, it was the introduction of automated cigarette production in the 1880s that enabled a rapid increase in consumption. Between 1880 and 1910 the number of manufactured cigarettes rose from 500 million to 10 billion (Brooks 1952). By the mid-twentieth century, smoking had transformed in high-income countries into a non-contentious, socially accepted activity which, significantly, involved both men and women. Until the 1920s smoking by women had been stigmatised; smoking was a manly attribute. Female emancipation and, perhaps more importantly, competition between cigarette companies for market share, saw smoking by women become far more common, with their smoking rates coming to approximate those of men. The success of the cigarette was nothing short of spectacular and from the 1930s onwards it became a central icon of the new consumer culture and, among women, a symbol of glamour and independence.
In high-income countries, the trends in smoking prevalence and tobacco consumption over the latter half of the twentieth century are closely tied to the epidemiological evidence that emerged from the 1930s onwards demonstrating a causal link between prolonged smoking and poor health (Doll & Hill, 1954; Hammond & Horn, 1954; Royal College of Physicians of London, 1962; United States Department of Health and Human Services, 1964). This led to changes in public perceptions of the health risks of tobacco consumption and the social norms around smoking. Whilst these early studies were later shown to greatly underestimate the