Dividend investors regard tobacco giant Philip Morris International (NYSE:PM) as a strong prospect, known for a favorable dividend policy that treats its investors much better than how most other stocks pay their shareholders. Yet many investors underestimate just how important dividends are to the value proposition Philip Morris stock offers, and it's easy not to understand the full magnitude of the company's payments of its income to shareholders.

Let's take a closer look at three things you need to know about Philip Morris and its dividend.

1. Philip Morris is a dividend payment leader.

Philip Morris is a large company, but it's far from the largest in the stock market. With a market capitalization of less than $160 billion, there are plenty of other stocks that are valued more highly. Yet Philip Morris still ranks among the leaders of the entire stock market when it comes to how much money it returns to shareholders in dividends.

The consumer staples sector of the S&P 500 as a whole has been a dividend stalwart for the overall market, ranking second only behind technology and paying out $14.3 billion in dividends during the second quarter. By itself, Philip Morris was responsible for more than 10% of the sector's total, paying $1.59 billion in common dividends during the quarter. That ranked only behind Procter & Gamble in terms of total cash dividend paid within consumer staples, a company with half again Philip Morris' market capitalization.

2. Philip Morris' dividend yield stands above its peers.

Philip Morris currently has a dividend yield of 4.1%. Although you can find plenty of stocks with higher dividends, what's rare is to find companies that are able to match Philip Morris' yield after becoming leaders in their respective industries and attaining megacap status.

Within the S&P 500, there are currently only three other stocks with market capitalizations of more than $100 billion that have higher yields than Philip Morris. They include telecom giants AT&T and Verizon, which have always had a history of making utility-like dividend payments to their shareholders out of the massive cash flow their respective telecom networks generate. In addition, Chevron currently has a higher yield, reflecting in part the more than 20% drop in its stock price since its 2014 highs in the aftermath of the plunge in crude oil prices.

3. Philip Morris has a perfect record of dividend growth.

Philip Morris has been an independent company for nearly nine years now, and in each of those nine years, it has made dividend increases. The tobacco giant has repeatedly stated its commitment to supporting a dividend policy that not only rewards shareholders with quarterly payouts but also boosts the size of those payouts over time.

That policy hasn't come without challenges. Currency-related headwinds have plagued Philip Morris' earnings for a couple of years now, and that has brought growth to the company's revenue and net income to a near-standstill at times. Philip Morris has responded by reducing the size of its dividend hikes, but it nevertheless hasn't stopped making at least small increases over the past couple of years. When conditions in the foreign exchange market reach a new equilibrium, Philip Morris investors hope that dividend growth will accelerate.

Philip Morris is a dividend powerhouse, and there are many ways in which the company stands out from the crowd for income investors. The three aspects discussed above make it clear that Philip Morris can be a valuable component of a dividend stock portfolio for those who want regular, reliable income from their holdings.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.