British American Tobacco - The global market

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The global market

Trends affecting our industry

Today, the tobacco and nicotine market serves a growing base of more than one billion adult consumers.

Generational differences and shifts in taste are continuing to emerge, as health and wellness become ever-more important. We anticipate growth in new categories of products, including – and beyond – tobacco and nicotine. Consumers expect these to provide stimulation and pleasure, in ways previously associated with cigarettes. We believe such growth will offset the predicted decline in cigarette consumption.

Global combustible market

Sales for the legal global tobacco market (2019) were worth approximately US$818 billion, according to the most recent estimates. The largest global tobacco category remains combustible cigarettes. With over 5,200 billion cigarettes consumed annually, it is valued at US$705 billion. Over 19% of the world’s adult population still chooses to smoke and will likely continue to do so unless consumers are offered suitable alternatives. However, cigarette volumes have been falling. This is largely due to increased regulation and changing societal attitudes. One reason for the decline of legal tobacco volumes is the continued rise in illicit product consumption. This is now estimated to account for 12% of the global tobacco market. A number of factors are driving the significant and growing illicit cigarette trade. These include the fact that cigarettes remain a reliable source of tax revenue for governments worldwide, price differentials between markets, regulatory changes and broader macroeconomic pressures. It is generally accepted that there is a direct correlation between steep, ad hoc increases in taxes and illicit sales. The current sanctions in many countries of often fail to deter criminals in search of profit.

Global combustible regulation

As one of the world’s most regulated and taxed industries, tobacco contributes over US$200 billion to government treasuries annually. Manufacturers are required to comply with a variety of regulations, varying considerably from market to market. Legislation and regulation has focused mainly on: the introduction of plain packaging, product-specific regulations, graphic health warnings on packs, tougher restrictions on smoking in enclosed public places and bans on shops displaying tobacco products at the point of sale. More recently, governments have begun considering and adopting regulations aimed at menthol flavourings. They have also targeted environmental concerns resulting from litter associated with cigarette consumption.

Impact of COVID-19

Beyond disruption to supply chains, analysts believe the short-term impact of COVID-19 on the tobacco industry will be relatively limited. It is likely that key cigarette volumes were only slightly lower than expected in 2020, in a number of markets globally. This impact on volumes is expected to be felt unequally across geographies, with resilience seen across more developed markets while developing markets experience potentially greater numbers of consumers turning to the illicit market. Production of the principal raw material – tobacco leaf – remains broadly diversified across a number of continents. The industry has proven adept at dealing with supply-side shocks.

Global New Categories market 

In recent years, the global tobacco and nicotine market has diversified beyond traditional, combustible tobacco. Evidence can be seen in growing categories like Vapour Products, Tobacco Heating Products (THP) and modern oral nicotine pouches. The success of these New Categories is based on many factors. One is their ability to offer consumers satisfaction, in circumstances where combustible tobacco is no longer permitted or socially acceptable. Another is their ability to offer reduced risk compared to combustible products.*† New generations of adult consumers are focusing on health and lifestyle considerations, technological innovation, and personalised experiences. As a result, we expect the growth of New Categories to keep accelerating, as these products better meet those preferences and demands. 

The latest global figures (2019) suggest that global vapour sales are worth US$20.2 billion, while global THP revenues stand at US$15.2 billion. This is an increase of US$4.5 billion and US$3.3 billion, respectively, on 2018. Traditional oral products show steady, incremental growth. Meanwhile, new modern oral products are showing accelerated volume expansion in both Europe and the US. The relatively nascent market for wellbeing and ‘new active’ products has also grown. This is expected to continue as consumer tastes fragment and evolve. Within this space, cannabidiol (CBD) is expected to gain wider use, as evidenced by its recent growth in market size.

New Categories regulation

At a global level, the THP and vapour markets are still emerging. Regulation is in its early stages in many countries. While many governments are considering regulation specific to this category, it has often not been enacted. Globally, there is a mix of attitudes towards THPs and vapour products. Some regulators aim to encourage them as potentially lower risk, while balancing concerns around possible increased youth usage. Others view them with greater scepticism, including some countries where they are banned.


Legal and regulatory court proceedings continue in a number of forums against the tobacco industry, and more recently the vaping industry, with the most common being third-party reimbursement cases, class actions and individual lawsuits. Special factors that led to product liability litigation in the US and Canada are not typically replicated in other countries, which is why large volume and high-value litigation has not generally spread to other parts of the globe. The industry has a proven track record of defending its rights and managing risks such as these.

* Based on the weight of evidence and assuming a complete switch from cigarette smoking. These products are not risk free and are addictive.

† Our products as sold in the US, including Vuse, Velo, Grizzly, Kodiak, and Camel Snus, are subject to FDA regulation and no reduced-risk claims will be made as to these products without agency clearance.

** All data sources on this page are from Euromonitor International unless otherwise stated.