Clear The Air News Tobacco Blog Rotating Header Image

Tobacco Crops

Malawi should fight child labour through education improvement- Winrock International

Download (PDF, 57KB)

Malawi’s tobacco farmers backing off from gold leaf

Download (PDF, 117KB)

Chia and Quinoa Super foods – alternate crops for Tobacco

Download (PDF, 184KB)

Change of crop bears fruit

For local farmers in Qujing, money does grow on trees since the local government enticed the Joyvio Group to invest in plantations to grow a superfood. Wang Hao, Yang Feiyue and Li Yingqing report in Qujing, Yunnan.

Yingqing Xu Huayuan is using secateurs to trim blueberry trees in a vast plantation in Yunnan province.

“You can try one of the blueberries that have turned dark blue on the trees. They are sweet,” says the 32-year-old.

Xu is a contract worker on a blueberry plantation in the Qilin district of Qujing city, which is owned by Joyvio Group, the strategic investment arm for food and agribusiness of Legend Holdings.

He has been working at the plantation, which covers 73 hectares, for a year, caring for its 240,000 blueberry trees along with seven others.

His work includes keeping a record of the development of each blueberry tree in the area of the farm he is responsible for, monitoring the changes in temperature and water content on a daily basis throughout the year.

“My life is much easier and more stable now than it used to be,” says Xu, who used to grow tobacco on his 0.7 hectare of land. “I had to dig into my own pockets to buy pesticide and fertilizer, do all the heavy lifting during the harvest, and find buyers,” he says.

His family could make up to 30,000 yuan ($4,500) if there was a good harvest, but would lose it all when the weather wreaked havoc.

The city produces among the best tobacco nationwide, and its output accounts for approximately 9 percent of the total nationwide.

“Tobacco is still a pillar industry. But we are trying to make other sectors, like organic farming, vacation and sport tourism, take up a larger proportion, so that the industrial mix would be healthier, too. Blueberries are our new hope,” says Dong Baotong, the mayor of Qujing.

Zimbabwe: Tobacco Farmers Wreak Havoc On Forests

By Problem Masau

As the vehicle negotiated Hurungwe District’s rugged terrain, weaving through countless tree stumps, it was difficult to imagine that once upon a time, the area was a dense forest.

Years of deforestation by tobacco farmers seeking wood for their barns have taken a serious toll on the country’s indigenous forests.

The situation continues to get worse as few new trees are being grown where the old are being cut down by an increasing number of farmers turning to tobacco farming.

Most farmers in Hurungwe have since abandoned maize farming for tobacco, citing low prices and viability challenges they have faced in growing maize.

With more than 98 000 registered tobacco farmers, up from just 600 in 2000, Zimbabwe’s forests are indeed under siege.

According to the Forestry Commission, every year the southern African nation is losing more than 300 000 hectares of forests to deforestation.

At least 15 percent of the destruction is attributable to tobacco farmers.

Previously, tobacco farmers would mainly cure their crop using coal, but wood has become the cheapest and readily available fuel for the army of farmers who have migrated to tobacco.

Under these circumstances, finding a lasting solution to the increasing deforestation is near impossible.

But the solution could come from a most unusual source: Bees.

Arnold Guzha, who chairs the Mudzimu Bee Keeping Group, said bee-keeping was bringing double benefits to the Hurungwe community.

“As well as earning money from selling our honey, we have also started taking more care of our forests because this is where the bees live and build their natural hives,” he said.

“We have not used our forests wisely until now. Instead of cutting down trees, we are keeping them. If we had started our honey activities a few years ago, we would have known to make wiser use of this natural resource,” he added.

Guzha is among an estimated over 6 000 full-time beekeepers in Zimbabwe.

The beekeepers have support from farmers who are still growing maize.

“Our culture preserved forests by labelling them sacred. No one ever dared to cut down trees, but tobacco farmers in this area have wrecked havoc and if nothing is done to stop them our trees will become extinct,” said Vian Bhachi, a maize farmer who has watched Hurungwe forests vanish.

He added that herbalists in the area were now walking long distances in search of herbs.

“Indigenous trees are very helpful in many ways and parents are struggling to find certain trees for herbs when children experience stomach ache,” added Bhachi.

The Forestry Commission, which is responsible with preservation of forests, is now hoping that the enactment of a law through a Statutory Instrument (SI), could help force farmers to plant trees. The SI is currently being crafted, said Forestry Commission general manager, Darlington Duwa.

Duwa said: “The instrument will force farmers to set aside land for the growing of trees to be used during tobacco curing and these will be fast growing trees. Our research division is working on fast growing tree varieties and the law we are talking about is almost 80 percent complete and should come into effect very soon.”

Despite these efforts tobacco farmers says they have very little choice but to rely on the indigenous forest for fuel wood.

“Firewood is the only available source of fuel we can secure to cure our tobacco, we know the government policy on indiscriminate cutting down of trees but we are left with no choice. The advantage of indigenous trees is that they are flammable and last long,” said one farmer Forward Chigara.


Study reveals high environmental cost of tobacco

Smoking kills 7 million people a year, and it scars the planet through deforestation, pollution and littering.

Details of the environmental cost of tobacco are revealed in a study released Wednesday by the World Health Organization, adding to the well-known costs to global health, which translate to a yearly loss of $1.4 trillion in health-care expenses and lost productivity.

From crop to pack, tobacco commands an intensive use of resources and forces the release of harmful chemicals in the soil and waterways, as well as significant amounts of greenhouse gases. Its leftovers linger, as tobacco litter is the biggest component of litter worldwide.

“Tobacco not only produces lung cancer in people, but it is a cancer to the lungs of the Earth,” said Dr. Armando Peruga, who previously coordinated the WHO Tobacco Free Initiative and now works as a consultant. He reviewed the new report for the WHO.


Commercial tobacco farming is a worldwide industry that involves 124 countries and occupies 4.3 million hectares of agricultural land. About 90% of it takes place in low-income countries, with China, Brazil and India as the largest producers.

Because tobacco is often a monocrop — grown without being rotated with other crops — the plants and the soil are weak in natural defenses and require larger amounts of chemicals for growth and protection from pests.

“Tobacco also takes away a lot of nutrients from the soil and requires massive amounts of fertilizer, a process that leads to degradation of the land and desertification, with negative consequences for biodiversity and wildlife,” Peruga said.

The use of chemicals directly impacts the health of farmers, 60% to 70% of whom are women. This is especially prominent in low- and middle-income countries, where some compounds that are banned in high-income countries are still used.

300 cigarettes = one tree

Farming also uses a surprisingly large amount of wood, rendering tobacco a driver of deforestation, one of the leading causes of climate change.

About 11.4 million metric tonnes of wood are utilized annually for curing: the drying of the tobacco leaf, which is achieved through various methods, including wood fires.

That’s the equivalent of one tree for every 300 cigarettes, or 1.5 cartons.

This adds to the impact of plantations on forest land, which the study describes as a significant cause for concern, citing “evidence of substantial, and largely irreversible, losses of trees and other plant species cause by tobacco farming.”

Deadly gases

In 2012, 967 million daily smokers consumed approximately 6.25 trillion cigarettes worldwide, the WHO estimates.

“That means about 6,000 metric tonnes of formaldehyde and 47,000 metric tonnes of nicotine are released into the environment,” Peruga said.

Tobacco smoke contains about 4,000 chemicals, at least 250 of which are known to be harmful. It also contains climate-warming carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxides. “The combination of greenhouse gases from combustion is equivalent to about 1.5 million vehicles driven annually,” Peruga said.

Secondhand smoke is particularly deadly: It contains twice as much nicotine and 147 times more ammonia than so-called mainstream smoke, leading to close to 1 million deaths annually, 28% of them children.

Some of these pollutants remain in the environment (and our homes) as “third-hand smoke,” accumulating in dust and surfaces indoors, and in landfills. Some, like nicotine, even resist treatment, polluting waterways and potentially contaminating water used for consumption, the study notes.

Non-biodegradable litter

Tobacco litter is the most common type of litter by count worldwide.

“We calculate that two-thirds of every cigarette ends up as litter,” Peruga said.

The litter is laced with chemicals including arsenic and heavy metals, which can end up in the water supply. Cigarette butts are not biodegradable, and tossing one on the ground is still considered a socially acceptable form of littering in many countries.

The WHO estimates that between 340 million and 680 million kilograms of tobacco waste are thrown away every year, and cigarette butts account for 30% to 40% of all items collected in coastal and urban clean-ups.

“In addition to that, there are 2 million tons of paper, foil, ink and glue used for the packaging,” Peruga said.

A way forward?

Even though smoking is declining globally, it is increasing in some regions, such as the eastern Mediterranean and Africa. China is a world leader both in production (44%) and consumption, with 10 times more cigarettes smoked than in any other nation.

Every stage of the production of a cigarette has negative effects on the environment and the people who are involved in manufacturing tobacco products, even before the health of smokers and non-smokers is affected.

Although governments worldwide already collect $270 billion in tobacco taxes a year, the WHO suggests that increasing tax and prices is an effective way of reducing consumption and help development priorities in each country, adding that by collecting 80 cents more per pack, the global tax revenue could be doubled.

“Tobacco threatens us all,” WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said in a note. “It exacerbates poverty, reduces economic productivity, contributes to poor household food choices, and pollutes indoor air.”

Tobacco kills 7 million a year, wreaks environmental havoc: WHO

Smoking and other tobacco use kills more than seven million people each year, the World Health Organization said Tuesday, also warning of the dire environmental impact of tobacco production, distribution and waste.

The UN agency said tougher measures were needed to rein in tobacco use, urging countries to ban smoking in the workplace and indoor public spaces, outlaw marketing of tobacco products and hike cigarette prices.

“Tobacco threatens us all,” WHO chief Margaret Chan said in a statement.

“Tobacco exacerbates poverty, reduces economic productivity, contributes to poor household food choices, and pollutes indoor air,” she said.

In a report released ahead of World No Tobacco Day on Wednesday, WHO warned that the annual death toll of seven million people had jumped from four million at the turn of the century, making tobacco the world’s single biggest cause of preventable death.

And the death toll is expected to keep rising, with WHO bracing for more than one billion deaths this century.

“By 2030, more than 80 percent of the deaths will occur in developing countries, which have been increasingly targeted by tobacco companies seeking new markets to circumvent tightening regulation in developed nations.”

Tobacco use also brings an economic cost: WHO estimates that it drains more than $1.4 trillion (1.3 trillion euros) from households and governments each year in healthcare expenditures and lost productivity, or nearly two percent of the global gross domestic product.

In addition to the health and economic costs linked to smoking, the WHO report for the first time delved into the environmental impact of everything from tobacco production to the cigarette butts and other waste produced by smokers.

“From start to finish, the tobacco life cycle is an overwhelmingly polluting and damaging process,” WHO Assistant Director-General Oleg Chestnov said in the report.

The report detailed how growing tobacco often requires large quantities of fertilisers and pesticides, and it warned that tobacco farming had become the main cause of deforestation in several countries.

This is largely due to the amount of wood needed for curing tobacco, with WHO estimating that one tree is needed for every 300 cigarettes produced.

WHO also highlighted the pollution generated during the production, transport and distribution of tobacco products.

The report estimates that the industry emits nearly four million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent annually — the same as around three million transatlantic flights.

And waste from the process contains over 7,000 toxic chemicals that poison the environment, including human carcinogens, WHO said.

Once in the hands of the consumer, tobacco smoke emissions spewed thousands of tonnes of human carcinogens, toxic substances and greenhouse gases into the environment.

Cigarette butts and other tobacco waste make up the largest number of individual pieces of litter in the world, the agency said.

Two thirds of the 15 billion cigarettes sold each day are thrown on to the street or elsewhere in the environment, it said, adding that butts account for up to 40 percent of all items collected in coastal and urban clean-ups.

WHO urged governments to take strong measures to rein in tobacco use.

“One of the least used, but most effective tobacco control measures… is through increasing tobacco tax and prices,” Chestnov said.

Tobacco is a deadly threat to global development

Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of WHO

When I reflect on my tenure as Director-General of the World Health Organization, there are many areas where the agency played its unique role as the guardian of health for all people.

But I am especially proud of our work to fight tobacco use, something that I have personally championed since 2007.

Tobacco is a deadly product that kills more than 7 million people every year, and costs the global economy more than US$ 1.4 trillion annually in healthcare expenditure and lost productivity.

Tobacco control will play a major part in meeting the Sustainable Development Goal target of reducing premature deaths from noncommunicable diseases by one-third by 2030.

But tobacco control is about more than preventing deadly cancers, heart diseases and respiratory diseases. In addition to posing a serious threat to health, tobacco use also threatens development in every country on every level and across many sectors — economic growth, health, education, poverty and the environment — with women and children bearing the brunt of the consequences.

The theme for this year’s World No Tobacco Day, on 31 May, is “Tobacco – a threat to development”. This year, WHO will launch a new report that highlights the great harm to the environment inflicted by tobacco growing, manufacturing, trade and consumption. For example, growing and producing tobacco uses 4.3 million hectares of land resulting in deforestation of 2-4%, and the pesticides and fertilizers used in tobacco growing can be toxic and pollute water supplies. Tobacco manufacturing produces over 2 million tonnes of solid waste each year. Up to 10 billion cigarettes are disposed in the environment every day. Cigarette butts account for 30-40% of all litter collected in coastal and urban clean-ups.

Tobacco farming also stops children from attending school and exposes them to hazardous chemicals. Children in tobacco-growing families often miss class because they are needed to work in the tobacco fields. Women are also disproportionately at risk of chemical exposure, as they make up 60-70% of the tobacco farming workforce.

Tobacco use hits the poorest people the hardest and exacerbates poverty. Spending on tobacco products often represents more than 10% of total household income – meaning less money for food, education and health care. Some 80% of the premature deaths attributable to tobacco use occur in low- or middle-income countries. These countries bear almost 40% of the global US$ 1.4 trillion cost of smoking from health expenditures and lost productivity.

Fortunately, we have powerful tools to fight the tobacco epidemic. The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), the first international treaty negotiated under the auspices of WHO, provides governments with clear, legally binding measures that they can introduce to reduce the harm caused by tobacco use. These include banning advertising, promotion and sponsorship of tobacco, effectively warning about the harmful effects of tobacco use, implementing tax or price policies and protecting people from exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke.

In line with WHO’s FCTC, WHO’s MPOWER measures support countries to reduce demand for tobacco, using methods that are practical, low-cost and high-impact. Tobacco taxation is a powerful tool for saving lives. Taxes reduce smoking rates and help government raise revenues to improve health and promote development. Increasing tobacco taxes and prices is one of the most effective, yet least utilized control measures globally. By increasing cigarette taxes worldwide by US$1, an extra US$ 190 billion could be raised for development.

We need to make sure that countries know that this tool exists and how to use it. Ministers of health are convinced by the evidence, and I ask them to be vocal in persuading ministers of finance, trade, foreign affairs and others not to be swayed by the unsubstantiated arguments of the tobacco industry.

Many countries have already shown tremendous progress in reducing tobacco use. Our challenge now is to help more countries follow suit, and to fight the efforts of the tobacco companies to hinder or counter progress that has been made by countries implementing strong measures.

Everyone can help play a role in stamping out tobacco and promoting development at the same time. People can commit to never take up tobacco products or to seek help to quit the habit. Governments can strengthen implementation of the WHO FCTC.

The tobacco industry is a vector of one of the greatest threats our society faces. It takes courage to antagonize powerful economic operators. If we fail to accept this responsibility, we will never make sufficient progress in health and development.

WHO stands ready to help governments introduce innovative approaches to tackle tobacco use. We have taken off our gloves and entered the ring on the side of the countries working to advance tobacco control, and we are going to fight tobacco tooth and nail.

If we rise to the challenge of beating tobacco by adopting measures that reduce demand for this deadly product, we can promote a healthier, more sustainable world.

Indonesia tobacco bill would fire up output despite health fears

Indonesia’s parliament has proposed a draft law that could lead to a sharp increase in tobacco output in a country that is already a top producer with one of the heaviest rates of smoking in the world.

Indonesia’s tobacco industry employs millions of workers and contributes almost 10 percent to government revenues through taxes, but has faced a backlash from the health ministry and anti-smoking organizations.

Health Minister Nila Moeloek said her ministry “definitely” opposes the tobacco bill as it has the responsibility to “safeguard the health of the people”.

The bill, which covers production, distribution and excise taxes, has to be approved by President Joko Widodo.

Indonesia’s industry minister, Airlangga Hartarto, said the government has to assess how the tobacco bill would affect existing regulations for the industry.

Firman Subagyo, the parliament member who initiated the bill, played down health concerns, saying tobacco is a “strategic” commodity that can increase the prosperity of Indonesian farmers and state revenues.

“Health should not be used as an excuse to destroy people’s livelihood,” Subagyo, who comes from Indonesia’s second-biggest political party, Golkar, said in an interview on Wednesday.

Under the draft law, manufacturers of tobacco products have to use locally sourced tobacco for at least 80 percent of their production, while imports of ready-to-use cigarettes may be subject to an excise tax of 200 percent.


Abdus Setiawan, a board member at the Indonesia Tobacco Growers’ Association, said he welcomed the draft law as it could help to protect farmers. But an increase in production should be balanced with “rational pricing”, he said.

Indonesia was the world’s fourth-biggest cigarette producer with an output of 269.2 billion sticks in 2015, according to the latest data from research firm Euromonitor International. The market was valued at 231.3 trillion rupiah (£14.20 billion).

Nearly two-thirds of men are smokers in Indonesia, where an average pack of cigarettes costs less than $2.

Major cigarette companies operating in the country include Phillip Morris-controlled PT Hanjaya Mandala Sampoerna Tbk, Djarum Group and PT Gudang Garam Tbk.

Sampoerna, through its tobacco suppliers, has partnered with about 27,000 tobacco farmers in Indonesia and gets almost three-quarters of its tobacco domestically, said Elvira Lianita, Sampoerna’s head of fiscal affairs and communications.

However, the industry’s total tobacco requirements have outpaced the domestic growth in tobacco output, Lianita said. Restricting access to raw materials through import regulations or taxes would disrupt the “overall economic stability”, she said.

“Partnership programs, not risky restrictions, would be the solution to bridging this gap and increasing farmer prosperity,” she added.

Gudang Garam and Djarum declined to comment.

(Reporting by Eveline Danubrata and Agustinus Beo Da Costa; Additional reporting by Cindy Silviana and Jakarta Newsroom; Editing by Ed Davies and Bill Tarrant)

Indonesia’s Child Tobacco Workers in Peril

In the next week, Indonesian President Joko (“Jokowi”) Widodo will decide whether to encourage parliament to move forward with a draft tobacco bill aimed at increasing domestic tobacco production. The bill would gut many important existing health regulations, like the requirement that companies include a health warning with a picture on the label of tobacco products.

Those are troubling proposals given that millions of children in Indonesia start smoking each year, and that 40 million more are “passive smokers” from secondhand smoke. The Indonesian Ministry of Health, 17 prominent health organizations, and many others have denounced the measure as an attempt to undermine Indonesia’s already weak tobacco control laws. Jokowi should reject the bill.

But the draft bill is not the only tobacco policy issue awaiting action by the Jokowi administration. Each year in Indonesia, thousands of children, some just 8 years old, work in hazardous conditions producing tobacco that ends up in products marketed and sold by huge Indonesian and multinational tobacco companies.

My colleagues and I published a Human Rights Watch report documenting hazardous child labor on Indonesian tobacco farms last May. Since then, another tobacco season has come and gone, but the child workers behind Indonesia’s tobacco industry remain unprotected.

We interviewed 132 children who worked on tobacco farms in four of Indonesia’s biggest tobacco-producing provinces. We found that child workers are exposed to nicotine and pesticides—toxins that can be especially harmful to children who are still growing and developing. Half the children we interviewed had experienced nausea, vomiting, headaches, or dizziness while they worked. Those symptoms are consistent with acute nicotine poisoning, which happens when workers handle tobacco plants and absorb nicotine through their skin. Many children said they also mixed and sprayed toxic chemicals on the plants with no protective equipment, and some became violently ill afterward.

The families we interviewed did not intentionally put their children in harm’s way. They were committed to helping their children get an education so they could have a better future.

Indeed, most of the children we interviewed attended school and worked in tobacco farming only outside of school hours.

But direct contact with tobacco in any form is hazardous work for children because of the nicotine in the leaves. Most of the families we spoke with had never received comprehensive information about the hazards for children of work on tobacco farms, so they did not know the risks to their children.

We urged the Jokowi government to take action to protect children from danger in tobacco fields. We called on the Health Ministry to work with other ministries to develop a public education campaign to raise awareness of the dangers to children of work on tobacco farms. In recent meetings with Human Rights Watch, government officials have said they need additional support and resources to get the campaign underway this year.

Indonesia already prohibits children under 18 from work “with harmful chemical substances.” The Ministry of Manpower and Transmigration should explicitly prohibit children from working in direct contact with tobacco in any form and increase labor enforcement efforts to make sure government inspectors check for workers’ safety, especially on small tobacco farms where children might be in danger.

In our meetings with government officials, we have heard many times that the tobacco industry is powerful in Indonesia, and that it is difficult to achieve policy changes the industry opposes. Surely eliminating child labor in tobacco farming is an issue tobacco companies also want to address.

The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights make clear that companies have responsibilities for addressing human rights abuses in their supply chains. We shared our findings with the largest tobacco companies operating in Indonesia—Djarum, Gudang Garam, Philip Morris International (which owns Sampoerna), British American Tobacco (which owns Bentoel), and others. The large multinational tobacco companies have policies to prevent children from doing the most dangerous tasks on tobacco farms, but their policies are not strong enough, and they should do more to monitor for child labor when they buy Indonesian tobacco on the open market through traders.

The largest Indonesian companies—Djarum and Gudang Garam—do not appear to be taking any steps to prevent or address child labor in their supply chains. They have never responded to our many requests for information and meetings, and they do not make any information publicly available about their child labor policies.

These companies should not be profiting off the backs of Indonesian child workers.

Two months from now, the next tobacco-growing season will be underway, and children will be heading to the fields again. The controversy around the draft tobacco bill likely will not be resolved by then. But with decisive action, the Jokowi administration and tobacco companies could take steps to protect children from dangerous work in tobacco fields. Their futures depend on it.