You’ve heard of Marlboro, Camel, and Lucky Strike, but what about Silver Elephant, Red Pagoda Mountain, and Double Happiness?
China National Tobacco Corporation is the world’s largest tobacco company, accounting for nearly half of global cigarette production. The secretive state-backed giant holds a virtual monopoly over China’s vast tobacco market, the world’s largest, selling more than Philip Morris, British American Tobacco, Imperial Brands, and Japan Tobacco International combined.
Unlike these traditional “Big Tobacco” companies, China Tobacco’s rapid rise has gone largely unremarked in much of the world. That is now starting to change as the company expands aggressively into new countries as part of Beijing’s controversial “Belt and Road” initiative.
Journalists from OCCRP and its partners on five continents spent months investigating the massive conglomerate and its dizzying array of subsidiaries and joint ventures. They discovered China Tobacco is using many of the same strategies Big Tobacco employed in the 1990s, flooding countries with cigarettes and working with smuggling networks that move them into Latin America, Europe, and the Middle East.
Read on to learn more about the biggest tobacco company you’ve never heard of.
Project Coordinators: Alessia Cerantola, Andrei Ciurcanu
Contributing Journalists and Editors:
OCCRP: Alessia Cerantola, Andrei Ciurcanu, Jared Ferrie, Caroline Henshaw, Nathan Jaccard, Lilia Saúl, Khadija Sharife, Luiz Fernando Toledo, Beauregard Tromp, Julia Wallace
Cambodia: Bopha Phorn
Concolón (Panama): Sol Lauría
Cuestión Pública (Colombia): David Tarazona, Mateo Yepes
Houston Chronicle: St. John "Sinjin" Barned-Smith
The Intercept (Brazil): Naira Hofmeister
The Kyiv Post (Ukraine): Anna Myroniuk
Newshawks (Zimbabwe): Owen Garare, Nhau Mangirazi
RISE Romania: Andre Ciurcanu
Süddeutsche Zeitung: Christoph Giesen
TVI Portugal: Rolando Santos
Fact-Checking: Ivana Jeremic, Roxana Jipa, Olena LaFoy, Bojana Pavlovic, Dima Stoianov
Research: Lara Dihmis, Olga Gein, David Ilieski, Dragana Peco, Daniel Salazar Murillo, Karina Shedrofsky
Graphics: Tamas Szemann, Edin Pasovic
Illustration: Svetlana Tiourina
Promotion: Charles Turner
Layout and Web Interactives: Mark Nightingale
Video: Reported by Naira Hofmeister, shot by Daniela Xu, edited by Sergiu Brega
OCCRP received a grant from Vital Strategies to fund part of this work.