With high-end estimations of U.S. $770 billion annually, the global tobacco industry is undoubtedly one of the most financially lucrative industries today. The three leading tobacco companies, namely Phillip Morris International, Altria, and British American Tobacco, are each valued at over U.S. $100 billion dollars and a many number of second tier companies also boast strong market shares.

As the story goes, however, great profitability means great opportunity; and it is not just the legitimate actors that are placed to benefit from the tobacco trade.


  • The tobacco trade is worth hundreds of billions of dollars a year; the illicit cigarette trade accounts for approximately 10% of the industry’s vast riches giving hundreds of millions of dollars to ‘unknown’ actors.
  • Dubai, the UAE’s flagship tourist city, is visibly culpable in the illicit cigarette trade. Free zones sponsored by the local government to promote commercial activity have been hijacked by illicit networks as a way to traffic contraband and counterfeit cigarettes.
  • The Jebel Ali Free Trade Zone in particular is believed to host multiple tobacco companies, some of who have already been caught with illicit shipments of cigarettes. Where these funds end up is of great concern, with several previous cases showing evidence of terrorist funding.