Stanford researcher's online map pinpoints cigarette factories around the world

October 4, 2010 By Adam Gorlick, Stanford University
Stanford anthropologist Matthew Kohrman says the goal of the Cigarette Citadels project is to share information that he hopes will motivate people to think in new ways.

( -- Cigarettes are on track to kill 1 billion people by the end of the century. Anthropologist Matthew Kohrman is sharing information he hopes will bring that number down.

They sit on sprawling campuses right off American interstates, pop up in the middle of crowded Chinese cities and fill Australian industrial parks just a short walk from tidy residential neighborhoods.

They're among the hundreds of cigarette factories around the world – nondescript, benign buildings that largely go unnoticed. But when their manufacturing power is combined, the results are overwhelmingly deadly. Cigarettes accounted for 100 million deaths last century and are expected by global health experts to kill a billion more by the end of this one.

About 6 trillion cigarettes will be made this year, and they'll turn up everywhere: dangling from people's mouths, stubbed out on sidewalks and packaged for sale in supermarkets, pharmacies and corner stores.

Stanford anthropologist Matthew Kohrman looks at a satellite view of a factory in Holland that makes 96 billion cigarettes a year.

But few people know where they come from, and Stanford anthropologist Matthew Kohrman wants to change that. Using web tools including Google Maps, he's plotted the international whereabouts of more than 300 cigarette factories so far. Their names, addresses and some information about the plants now can easily be found thanks to Kohrman's Cigarette Citadels project.

The largest clusters of pinpoints are in Europe and Asia. But Africa, Australia and the Americas are home to major manufacturing facilities as well.

"This map allows us to have a good understanding of how the industry has grown, where it has set up shop, where it sees its growth potential and where the big players are," said Kohrman, who is also a senior fellow at Stanford's Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. "The public has a right to know where cigarette factories are if, as the World Health Organization tells us, the cigarette is the single biggest cause of preventable death right now."

Cigarettes already come with health warning labels and carry horrific nicknames like cancer sticks, coffin nails and lung darts. But consumer demand for tobacco is still strong, and the world's five biggest tobacco companies – British American Tobacco, Philip Morris International, Japan Tobacco, China Tobacco and Imperial Tobacco – continue to flourish, Kohrman said.

One of the biggest surprises to Kohrman, who together with undergraduate Rachel Lee has been compiling mapping data from news stories, public documents and tobacco company reports, was found in the Netherlands.

He clicks on the Cigarette Citadels map and calls up information on a factory run by Philip Morris, not far from The Hague. He zooms in on the map to show a complex of ordinary-looking buildings surrounded by a highway and tree-lined roads.

"This one place has produced as many as 96 billion cigarettes a year since it opened in the mid-1980s," he said. "It's massive. And here it is, under bright lights.

"How many people living in Philip Morris' target markets are now watching their sons, husbands, sisters, wives and aunts die from tobacco-induced diseases – because of this one production line running over the last 25 years? Probably as many as 80,000 deaths are now occurring each year, according to conservative epidemiological estimates – 80,000 deaths per year from a single factory nestled at The Hague's doorstep."

Will activists use the project's map to speak out in front of factories they can now easily locate? Will the map be used by Big Tobacco as a way to promote the number of jobs they provide? Kohrman doesn't know.

The goal of the project is neither to agitate nor defend, he says. The point of the project is to share information that he hopes will motivate people to think in new ways.

"Speaking and writing about these products distances us from the immediacy of them," Kohrman said. "But the evocative imagery in this map places us back in the realm of the object. We see where come from, where they're produced. They come from specific factories, often tucked into communities behind anonymous façades and industrial park fencing."

Explore further: Study: Cigarettes contain more nicotine

Related Stories

U of T research supports Ontario ban on cigarette displays

May 22, 2008

Toronto, ON. – Just weeks before Ontario implements a ban on the retail display of all tobacco products, new research from the Ontario Tobacco Research Unit at the University of Toronto shows that consumers have been bombarded ...

Is snuff the answer to quitting smoking?

September 18, 2006

Researchers in Washington say smokeless tobacco is much safer than cigarettes but the jury is out on whether smokers should be encouraged to switch habits.

Recommended for you

Unprecedented study of Picasso's bronzes uncovers new details

February 17, 2018

Musee national Picasso-Paris and the Northwestern University/Art Institute of Chicago Center for Scientific Studies in the Arts (NU-ACCESS) have completed the first major material survey and study of the Musee national Picasso-Paris' ...

Humans will actually react pretty well to news of alien life

February 16, 2018

As humans reach out technologically to see if there are other life forms in the universe, one important question needs to be answered: When we make contact, how are we going to handle it? Will we feel threatened and react ...

Using Twitter to discover how language changes

February 16, 2018

Scientists at Royal Holloway, University of London, have studied more than 200 million Twitter messages to try and unravel the mystery of how language evolves and spreads.


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Oct 04, 2010
But it is OK for Stanford scientists to drink MTBE in the water.
not rated yet Oct 04, 2010
Hmmmm.... terrorists could use these maps! Ban Google! Imagine if cigarettes were taken away from the evil immoral West by the moralistic Taliban!
not rated yet Oct 04, 2010
On a lighter note, that girl in the video is HOT!
not rated yet Oct 04, 2010
imagine if we grew more food to fight hunger ( of course provided it's affordable ) instead of growing literally death.
not rated yet Oct 05, 2010
Hmmmm.... terrorists could use these maps! Ban Google! Imagine if cigarettes were taken away from the evil immoral West by the moralistic Taliban!

Wouldn't that be a good thing though?

1 / 5 (1) Oct 05, 2010
this information is useful only if it's made known
5 / 5 (2) Oct 05, 2010
Yes, I have already talked to yakuza... They will be targeting every one of those installations from orbit with their zero point energy weaponry. Too bad addicts, you will have to find something new to suck instead of dirt. Muahahahahaha.
not rated yet Oct 06, 2010
great targets for those predator drones and would actually focus on the guilty and stem the death toll of innocent victims
not rated yet Oct 06, 2010
Yakuza needs no drones. Their infernal machines can add energy to a system or extract it from a distance. We must pray that they continue to use this power only for good.
not rated yet Oct 06, 2010
Caution: the above link contains much disinformation! Yakuza run the world. If this concerns you, go outside and smoke something. That is, breathe dirt deep down into your lungs so that the trace chemicals contained therein can suffuse into your circulatory system and find their way to target organs, leaving behind ash and grease and crud to decrease your ability to breathe and disturb your chromosomes causing eventual tumors and abcesses.

Yakuza laughs at your weakness. They profit from your anxiety.
not rated yet Oct 09, 2010
May I ask the reasoning behind pinpointing these factories on a map. Their locations are already public information. The only purpose I can see in gathering such information in one database is to encourage people to use it as targeting data. Gee, how about I publish the locations of all the industries I have a beef with. As an Example "The auto industry is killing us all, let's blow up their plants. Here are the exact locations."

Is this man encouraging criminal terrorism? It seems so to me.
not rated yet Oct 09, 2010
By the way, the RJR Whitaker Park plant that you pinpoint in Winston-Salem has been closed down and all the equipment sold off. RJR no longer manufactures cigarettes in NC. Hate for you to waste a missle on an innocent target. Wonder how many others are mistakes?

Oh yeah, the enemy has gone underground. Since the tobacco farmers in NC had the floor dropped out from under them, there's a bunch of 'em make their own all the way to finished product. If you want, I can tell you where all the tobacco barns are in this county. Don't forget my neighbor, I never did like him too much.
not rated yet Oct 09, 2010
If even one of these factories is attacked in any way and someone killed, I will hold this man responsible for murder. As for tobacco industry killing people, can you name one industry that doesn't?

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.