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Philip Morris: 5 Secrets You Didn’t Know (PM)

Global cigarette manufacturer Philip Morris International Inc. (NYSE: PM), best known for its iconic Marlboro brand, had its genesis in a cigarette and tobacco shop opened in London by Mr. Philip Morris in 1847. Although you might think that all the secrets of the major tobacco companies have long been exposed, the following are five interesting and surprising facts about Philip Morris and its Marlboro cigarettes.

1. High Annual Taxes

Most people are aware that cigarette taxes are among the most severe sin taxes levied anywhere on anything, but it is doubtful if many people really understand the heavy tax burden faced by tobacco companies. In fact, major cigarette manufacturers such as Philip Morris have to hand over more than half of their annual revenues to the taxman. In 2013, Philip Morris paid taxing authorities $48.8 billion of its $80 billion in total revenues, roughly 60%. Basically, the government is getting paid for 12 cigarettes out of every pack of 20 sold by Philip Morris.

2. Marlboro Originally Marketed as Cigarette for Women

Although the Marlboro Man is one of the most widely recognized advertising images in history, a little known fact is that the Marlboro brand was originally marketed, in the 1920s, as a cigarette for women using the ad slogan “Mild as May.” The cigarettes even featured a red band around the filter to hide lipstick stains. Famed advertising executive, Leo Burnett, was the man charged with transforming the brand into a cigarette for men, and came up with the iconic cowboy figure that came to be known as simply “the Marlboro Man.”

Another little-known fact is that the company’s move to reposition Marlboro as a cigarette for men was spurred by a study in the early 1950s that linked smoking to lung cancer. Filtered cigarettes were seen as safer than unfiltered cigarettes, but prior to the 1950s, filtered cigarettes were almost exclusively marketed to women. Because of this, men were reluctant to smoke filtered cigarettes until the advent of the ultra-macho Marlboro Man cowboy.

3. Philip Morris Paying Big on a Settlement Reached in 1998

To avoid a potential avalanche of thousands of individual or class action lawsuits related to health risks from smoking, in 1998, the largest U.S. tobacco firms, including Philip Morris, reached the Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) with the Attorney Generals of 46 states and the District of Columbia. While it is widely known that the MSA was incredibly costly for the tobacco companies, most people are not aware that Philip Morris and the other cigarette manufacturers are still, nearly 20 years later, paying out billions annually per the terms of the settlement.

The MSA ensured that the tobacco companies paid the states an approximate total of $10 billion every year for an indefinite period of time, at least through 2025. The principal lawyers for the states also continue to receive annual payments in the millions. Although the yearly payments were supposed to be used to fund public health projects, states have largely used the money for whatever pet projects that they decide deserve a windfall, such as a sprinkler system for a public golf course or the construction of a government office building.

4. Philip Morris Is a Good Investment

Given the fact that tobacco companies have to operate under such onerous marketing restrictions, with expensive settlement fees and such a huge tax burden, it is reasonable to conclude that firms such as Philip Morris offer little, if any, profit potential. However, surprisingly enough, Philip Morris has continued to manage net and operating margins in the 20 to 40% range, and to consistently show investors solid returns on investment. As of August 2016, the company’s stock offered a generous dividend yield of 4.09%, and the company has increased its dividend every year for the past eight years. Philip Morris’ earnings have doubled approximately every 10 years since as far back as 1985, and the company’s stock has more than doubled in price since its 2008 spinoff from parent Altria Group Inc. (NYSE: MO).

5. Rights to the Entire E-cigarette Technology

In 2000, Philip Morris considered buying the rights to the technology behind electronic cigarettes, but company executives eventually decided that the price was too high. The company has, however, entered the e-cigarette marketplace with its MarkTen and iQOS brands.

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