Despite what can be seen as a downright difficult climate for its core offering, sinful tobacco, Altria Group (NYSE:MO), the name behind Philip Morris and cigarette brands such as Marlboro, reported a 7.8% improvement in its second-quarter net earnings. However, the company's quarter included the benefits of a favorable tax rate and the weak dollar that boosted its profits.

Altria reported earnings of $2.63 billion, or $1.27 per share, and revenues increased 10% to $23.01 billion. Current earnings included a $0.13 per share charge, partly because of the restructuring of Kraft (NYSE:KFT) (which reported results yesterday) and partly connected to an agreement between the company and the European Union. Meanwhile, $0.15 per share of the gains included benefits from the weak dollar and the favorable tax rate.

While overseas shipments rose, there were a few international trouble spots. The company saw double-digit volume declines in France, Germany, and Japan as the overall markets dipped because of variables such as What istax-driven price increases on tobacco products.

Not so long ago, Motley Fool Income Investor analyst Mathew Emmert explored the ins and outs of investing in sin. Though widely recognized sin stocks such as Altria and its archrival R.J. Reynolds (NYSE:RJR) pay out dividends, a prerequisite for those who are looking to invest the Income Investor way, Emmert pointed out that part of the deal is a deep understanding of the issues at hand when holding stocks such as Altria.

Indeed, for the tobacco companies, the risks seem to be increasing all the time. Cigarettes are increasingly prohibitively priced, giving good reason for smokers to quit, cut down, or go generic. Public opinion continues to skew extremely negatively towards the habit; R.J. Reynolds' once-controversial Joe Camel is certainly less of a lure. Every time you turn around, there's another city that has banned smoking in bars and restaurants -- sometimes, even out on the public street.

And though Fool Seth Jayson quite rightly bashed the wisdom of New York's law requiring "safer cigarettes" that stop burning if unattended, it's a law that could have repercussions on the industry at large. Not only could it make the act of smoking less satisfying for smokers, but it could also open up the question of why these "safer cigarettes" aren't sold across the country.

Altria stood by its expectation to report earnings of $4.50 to $4.60 per share for the year. Despite the decent quarter, investors nudged shares down. Trading at just 11 times forward earnings, shares of Altria sound like a bargain -- but considering the trends, investing in tobacco companies remains a high-risk habit, a point of view that, obviously, many investors subscribe to. Though there may always be people who will choose to smoke, given trends, the numbers seem destined to dwindle with every year.

Are you looking for stocks that pay dividends that are less risky -- and stressful -- than tobacco companies? Try out a free trial to Motley Fool Income Investor .

Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned.