This category covers establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing cigarettes from tobacco or other materials.
The cigarette industry was valued at approximately $34.6 billion worldwide during the mid-2000s. The top two cigarette makers—Philip Morris and Reynolds American—controlled nearly all of the U.S. market at that time. Indeed, Census Bureau reports show that in recent years, only nine cigarette companies operated in the United States. Market share evidence suggests that the larger producers, especially Philip Morris, which alone makes up half of all U.S. production, could continue to crowd out smaller producers. Marlboro was still the number one brand worldwide, with 39 percent of the cigarette market. Other top brands were Newport, Camel, Doral, Basic, Winston, GPC, Kool, and Salem.
Battered by multibillion-dollar lawsuits and antismoking campaigns, the U.S. tobacco industry confronted a shrinking yet resilient market at home and widening demand abroad. In recent years, cigarette shipments fell as tax-induced price hikes and antismoking sentiment cut into demand. The average wholesale price of a carton of cigarettes increased more than $11. Although price increases helped to prop up sales and profits, the increases, along with substantial tax increases on a state level, were affecting the industry's profitability. At this time, continued price increases were helping discount brand cigarettes to gain popularity with cost-conscious consumers.
Despite setbacks due to a string of lawsuits and a more health-conscious consumer base, industry consolidation and substantially increased prices, among other factors, was keeping the few companies in the industry profitable. According to national statistics, more than 20 percent of American adults were smokers. Industry giant Philip Morris, for example, increased production from 87 billion cigarettes in 1970 to 761 billion in 2004.
From the industry's nascence in the mid-nineteenth century, when many cigarette manufacturers began as tobacco farmers, to the early 2000s, the number of participants has been limited. Early cigarette producers were located in proximity to the tobacco fields of the southern United States, typically operating in the same region as their competition. Nearly a century and a half later, the cigarette industry still consisted of a small, almost fraternal group of manufacturers, several of whom had been in competition with one another since the nineteenth century.
Cigarette manufacturers are still clustered in just a few southeastern states. Production of cigarettes is confined to the four-state region of North Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, and Kentucky. The bulk of these manufacturing facilities are located in North Carolina.
The origins of tobacco in the United States date back to before the formation of the nation itself, and the growth and sale of this product represented one of the key agricultural crops that spurred the country's growth in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The use of tobacco to produce cigarettes in any widespread fashion did not occur, however, until the dawn of the twentieth century. Other uses for tobacco precluded the popularity of cigarettes, as Americans in the early nineteenth century enjoyed plug and twist tobacco, then smoking tobacco, and finally cigars, all of which overshadowed cigarette production in terms of volume for most of the century. Even in the mid-1800s, the use of tobacco had its detractors, and cigarette smokers, many of whom were women, suffered from a somewhat ignoble image. As a social commentator in 1854 wrote in reference to New York: "Some of the ladies of this refined and fashion-forming metropolis are aping the silly ways of some pseudo-accomplished foreigners in smoking Tobacco through a weaker and more feminine article which has been most delicately denominated cigarette."
A decade later, however, the production volume of cigarettes had increased enough to become the object of special federal taxation, which, according to the Internal Revenue Law promulgated in June 1864, levied one dollar per one hundred packages not exceeding five dollars in aggregate value. The following year, 19.7 million cigarettes were produced, and manufacturers were buffeted by a series of tax hikes, first to two dollars per thousand and then to five dollars per thousand. This arrested the growth of the industry just as sales were beginning to elevate cigarette manufacturers' importance in the tobacco industry. In 1868 tax rates were cut back to $1.50 per thousand and growth resumed, marking the beginning of twenty-year period that would witness the most rapid percentage growth rate in the production of cigarettes in the history of the industry.
Cigarette production reached 500 million in 1880 and eclipsed the 1 billion mark five years later. By the 1880s, there were five principal manufacturers of cigarettes: Washington Duke Sons & Co., Allen & Ginter, Kinney Tobacco Co., William S. Kimball & Co., and Goodwin & Co. Together these companies produced 2.18 billion cigarettes annually by the end of the decade, 91.7 percent of the national output of 2.41 billion. These companies, referred to as the "Tobacco Trust," essentially controlled the cigarette market, enjoying a virtually unassailable lead over other, smaller manufacturers. This monopolistic trait would characterize the industry throughout much of its existence.
The ability of these companies to secure such a wide advantage over their competition was partly due to significant technological innovations achieved during the 1880s that ended the time-consuming chore of rolling cigarettes by hand. On a good day, a skilled laborer could roll 3,000 cigarettes during a ten-hour workday—a production rate that threatened to place a ceiling on the industry's growth. But beginning in 1872, the age of mechanization in the cigarette industry was initiated. The first cigarette manufacturing machine, patented by Albert H. Hook, earned a modicum of success but did not prove to be commercially viable. By 1881, however, significant improvements had been made in a design patented by James A. Bonsack. This machine could churn out 200 to 220 cigarettes per minute, accomplishing in fifteen minutes what it took an experienced production worker ten hours to complete.
Bolstered by the ability to produce more cigarettes with lower labor costs, the five companies that occupied the industry's leading positions grew quickly by moving into untapped markets and securing their overwhelming lead in the U.S. market. In 1890 the composition of the industry's manufacturers became more homogeneous when the five leading companies, at the urging of James Duke of Washington Duke & Sons Co., merged to form the American Tobacco Co., which initially focused primarily on the production of cigarettes. Over the next twenty years, the American Tobacco Co. acquired an interest in roughly 250 companies. This cigarette giant expanded into other tobacco products, securing commanding leads in every product branch of the tobacco industry with the exception of cigars. In the manufacture of cigarettes, plug, smoking tobacco, fine cut tobacco, snuff, and little cigars, the conglomerate's production output in the first decade of the twentieth century represented no less than 76 percent of the country's total volume, giving smaller manufacturers little hope of wresting market share away from the industry's predominant leader.
If the five leading manufacturers in the 1880s justly earned the moniker "Tobacco Trust" when operating as separate companies, then their union certainly deserved the same label. The U.S. Supreme Court said as much in May 1911, when it found the American Tobacco Co. in violation of the Sherman Act. Six months after the ruling, the court issued a decree stipulating that the enormously powerful tobacco company be divided into 16 independent corporations, none of which could wield monopolistic control over any one product branch within the tobacco industry.
Although certainly a...