Big Tobacco should pay for the damage it does


This spring ASH is running a campaign to coincide with the annual shareholders meetings of three of the largest tobacco companies in the world: Imperial Tobacco, British American Tobacco, and Philip Morris International. In line with the “Polluter Pays Principle” we’re calling on governments to make Big Tobacco pay for the damage it does. Help us share this message over the next few months. We must #MakeThemPay

Today marks the launch of ASH’s ‘Polluter Pays Spring Campaign’. The “polluter pays” principle, as adopted and developed by the OECD, is that a polluter must bear all the costs of preventing and controlling any pollution, including paying for the cost of the damage done. [1]

Tobacco is the leading cause of premature death worldwide, killing over 7 million people [2] a year and growing. The engine of the smoking epidemic is the tobacco industry, which is highly profitable and in rude health, unlike many of those who consume its products. The tobacco industry is uniquely lethal, causing immense harm to individuals, to communities and to the environment.

Tobacco companies are notorious for the damage they cause to the environment through deforestation, pollution, and littering. Wood fires are needed for the process of drying tobacco leaves, leading to the loss of one tree for every 300 cigarettes. Greenhouse gases are released into the air when cigarettes are smoked, and heavy metals and toxic chemicals end up in the water supply from littered cigarette butts. [3]

Smoking accounts for over 100,000 deaths in the UK alone, and about half all life-long smokers will die prematurely. [4] Imperial Tobacco is holding its Annual General Meeting tomorrow in Bristol, marking the launch of ASH’s “Polluter Pays Spring Campaign”. Imperial is the fifth largest tobacco company in the world and last year, it sold over 260 billion cigarettes and made operating profits of well over three billion pounds. In the UK its products are used by well over a third of smokers, [5] making it responsible for at least 30,000 deaths a year and 150,000 admissions to hospital.[6]

Imperial’s operating profits totalled £3.5 billion last year and in 2017 the board only withdrew a £3 million bonus to its chief executive because of a shareholder revolt. [7]

With money like that to burn, it is time that Imperial Tobacco pays for the damage it does both to people and to the environment.

Between now and the 9th May (coinciding with Philip Morris International’s Annual Meeting of Shareholders) ASH will be publishing a series of articles and videos on our Medium blog and Twitter. It is time Big Tobacco is made to pay.


[1] The Polluter Pays Principle. OECD Analyses and Recommendations. OECD Paris 1992.


[3] World Health Organization. Tobacco and its environmental impact. 2017.

[4] Office for National Statistics. Adult smoking habits in the UK: 2016. Published June 2017

[5] Branston, J. Gilmore, A. The extreme profitability of the UK tobacco market and the rationale for a new tobacco levy. University of Bath, 2017

[6] Office for National Statistics. Adult smoking habits in the UK: 2015. Published March 2017.

[7] The Guardian. Tobacco giant Imperial Brands rethinks CEO’s pay rise after revolt. 26 January 2017.