Clear The Air News Tobacco Blog Rotating Header Image

Tobacco Crops

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.

http://allafrica.com/stories/201706020677.html

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.

http://edition.cnn.com/2017/05/31/health/tobacco-environment-who-report/

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.

world-of-tobacco

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.

http://www.timeslive.co.za/world/2017/05/30/Tobacco-kills-7-million-a-year-wreaks-environmental-havoc-WHO

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

http://who.int/mediacentre/commentaries/2017/tobacco-threat-development/en/

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.

http://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-indonesia-tobacco-idUKKBN16M1FK

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.

‘RATIONAL PRICING’

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.

Expert warns on dangers of tobacco farming

An expert on tobacco-induced diseases, Akin Adebiyi, has warned tobacco farmers of the harmful effects of cultivating the crop.

Mr. Adebiyi, a medical doctor at the University College Hospital, Ibadan, said tobacco farmers should form a co-operative and engage the government for alternative means of sustenance in farming.

Tobacco cultivation is an intensive process that involves several stages and exposes farmers to tobacco dust.

For example there is the Green Leaf syndrome that is well documented that the tobacco farmer is prone to have, said Mr. Adebiyi.

“But more importantly is when they harvest the tobacco product and they are trying to make it suitable for the tobacco industry to buy from them. During the Curing process, they have to do a lot of work which is highly intensive, and they have to use firewood so they are exposed also to smoke, they are exposed to the tobacco dust that is generated when you are trying to put the products together.

“And they are not the only ones that are exposed, they also bring in their children to make sure that these are packed well. Sometimes it gets mouldy and they are exposed to mould.

“So all these are situations where the farmer can actually be exposed to deleterious effects of tobacco, so it’s not only about smoking,” he said.

Mr. Adebiyi spoke with journalists during a tour of tobacco farms in Iwere-Ile, Oyo State, on Wednesday.

He said the efforts tobacco farmers put into the cultivation of the plant is not commensurate with the financial gains they receive through sales of the finished products.

“I would say is that if you look at the efforts that tobacco farmers put into the farming, in terms of when the product is at the nursery stage and they have to wet morning and night, spend a lot of time in the farm and you look at what they eventually get at the end of the process, you realise that it’s not that profitable,” he said.

“And then along the line they are exposed to some deleterious effects of tobacco dust and of the firewood they use during the curing process.

“Government needs to engage the farmers. They need to know that tobacco farmers have to earn a living. And because they have to earn a living, we must as a matter of necessity look for alternative to tobacco farming.

“Animals shy away from tobacco, they don’t eat tobacco. But man is…it’s so funny that animals that are supposed to be at the lower level than man understand the dangerous effects of tobacco, but man is the one that is cultivating it and eating it. And man is supposed to be at a higher level than animals.

The farmers need to be educated and they need to group themselves into a cooperative to approach the government.”

A tobacco farmer in the community, Michael Falana, said they grow the plant twice a year – between March and June and then July and August.

“I stay at the farm from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. during the planting season,” said Mr. Falana, the head of tobacco growers in the community.

Mr. Falana said they receive loans from tobacco companies at the start of every planting season – about N400,000 – and make a profit of about N150,000 after repaying the loan.

“I plant cassava in between the planting seasons to support my income,” he added.

Akinbode Oluwafemi, an environmental activist, said tobacco farmers do not receive adequate protection from government in terms if policy formulation.

“If my memory serves me right, this is my fifth tour of tobacco farms and, sadly, nothing has changed,” said Mr. Oluwafemi, Director of Corporate Accountability at Environemntal Rights Action/Friends of the Earth Nigeria.

“The farms remain a territory for modern slavery. The tobacco farmers are in a cycle of debt with the tobacco companies who treat them like slaves. They farm the crop, they take it to the collection centre and they come and dictate the price. The farmers are still exposed to all manner of risks as a result of chemicals that are used in tobacco farming. There is not enough protection in terms of policy on the side of government.

“Most importantly, you all saw what it took to even locate one tobacco farm. So you begin to ask yourself ‘where are the tobacco farms?’

“The reality on ground is the same question we have been asking the government to unravel. How many acreage of tobacco farms are in Nigeria? How many tobacco farmers are in Nigeria? How much of tobacco leaves do Philip Morris, BAT import into their factories in Ibadan or Ilorin to produce the volumes that we have?

“Because from what you’ve seen today, certainly those leaves are not coming from these farms. What we basically have in Nigeria are farmers that the tobacco companies are using for public relations and for their political agenda. And we are saying that narrative must change. Government must take interest in this, work with civil society, stakeholders, and the farmers to find a way out of this problem.”

Why getting farmers to switch from tobacco crops is a struggle

http://www.scmp.com/news/asia/article/2061204/why-getting-farmers-switch-tobacco-crops-struggle

Crop diversification in the world’s top tobacco producers can lower smoking rates in low-income countries, but infrastructure limitations and industry subsidies make it a hard pitch to sell to farmers, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Ninety per cent of tobacco is grown within low and middle income countries (LMICs), where four in five smokers live, the WHO outlined in a new report released on Tuesday. More than 40 per cent of the world’s tobacco is produced in China alone, while Brazil, Argentina, Bangladesh, Malawi and Zimbabwe are among the other top producers. About half of all smokers live in either Southeast Asia or the Western Pacific region, the WHO said.

Tobacco kills up to half of its users, resulting in 6 million deaths a year, according to WHO data. More than 5 million of those are the result of direct tobacco use while over 600 000 are non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke.

“There is a consensus that helping small farmers switch from tobacco to alternative crops can be a useful part of sustainable local economic development programmes and can help overcome barriers to adopting and implementing strong tobacco control policies.”

However, there remain several obstacles to replacing tobacco farms.

“The global trend toward reducing or eliminating tobacco subsidies and price supports in high-income countries (HICs) has significantly affected international production and trade patterns. Production has dropped in the U.S. and Canada that have phased out price supports and traditional producing members of the European Union, such as Greece and Italy,” the report said.

As a result of declining production of good quality leaves in HICs, producers in LMICs have improved the quality of leaf they grow and have received increased farm gate prices.

“Recent trends in the organisation of the tobacco leaf production and marketing chain, including use of integrated production systems, has expanded these multinational corporations’ control over price and other factors while making farmers increasingly dependent.”

The labour-intensive process of tobacco farming provides income to millions of families in producing countries. Once growing and manufacturing are finished in LMICs, the higher phases of the value chain then move to multinational tobacco companies that are largely based in high-income countries, the report explained.

State subsidies for the tobacco-growing sector within LMICs are also high, unlike in HICs where assistance is reduced or eliminated.

But perhaps the biggest hindrance to crop substitution is geography.

Many of the substitute crops that can be as profitable as tobacco, including sweet potatoes and zucchini, require investments in infrastructure, and tend to be highly specific to a country, the WHO report said.

“Tobacco is an expensive crop to grow, but so too are most high-value alternative crops. Building new, and hopefully better, support systems for other crops is a clear challenge for diversification programmes. It will take time for these systems to emerge, and any successful transition from tobacco will likely be a gradual process.”

The WHO found higher taxes and prices on tobacco products remain the single most consistent means to reduce global tobacco use. But tax administration can be challenging for LMICs with limited resources, it added.

The price of Africa’s puff

It is still one of the biggest businesses in Africa despite all the efforts from the government trying to stamp it out. The tobacco industry makes over $700 billion a year and seems to survive advertising bans and restrictions. Part of this business is African children who work for a dollar a day. The article below first appeared in Forbes Africa and is republished with its permission. Subscribe today by contacting Shanna Jacobsen Shanna.Jacobsen@abn360.com

http://www.cnbcafrica.com/news/special-report/2017/01/05/africa-cigarettes-and-smoking/

It’s 5am in the northern hills of Malawi where its tobacco is grown. Chifundo Ndilowe is awake and ready for the day. Dressed in grey shorts and a blue NBA vest, still filthy from yesterday’s long day on the farm, Ndilowe has hours of hard labour ahead. He is just 15 years old and has been planting and picking tobacco since he was 10.

“I came here in 2011 because rural life is hard. We were battling at home and I had to start contributing for us to survive. I stopped going to school to work. It is very tough working under these conditions because it is hot and we easily get tired and I am often sick,” he says.

Ndilowe moved 567 kilometres from Mulanje to Mpherembe, 300 kilometres north of Malawi’s capital, Lilongwe, to work in a tobacco farm five years ago. It means long hours, missing school and breaking the law for little pay. He earns a little more than $140 and $280 a year depending on the harvest. That’s less than $1 a day.

“We work for the year and only get paid after harvest. During the year, we get 20 kilograms of maize for 12 days because we don’t grow crops for consumption. They also give us salt and then we have to figure out the rest ourselves. I get to eat once a day and I take whatever is there,” he says.

Ndilowe is just one of an estimated 800,000 youngsters in the tobacco fields; voices that are seldom heard. One of an army of children who sweat for millions of cigarettes lit all over Africa.

A study on child labour in the tobacco industry in two areas of Malawi, Suza in the Kasungu district and Katalima in the Dowa district, found 57% of all children were being used as child labour in the tobacco fields.

George Kube, an adult tobacco worker, works with Ndilowe and two other children.

“There is no money for the children to go to school and if they don’t work to help we wouldn’t survive. We farm on two acres of land and the produce is auctioned to tobacco companies. You have to be very strong if you are going to do this job because sometimes we have to cut down trees and look for water,” says Kube.

A study, published by the British Medical Association, says contract farmers, like Kube and Ndilowe, cultivating tobacco in Malawi, live below national poverty lines, while independent farmers operate at a loss.

“Even when labour is excluded from the calculation of income less costs, farmers’ gross margins place most households in the bottom income [groups] of the overall population. Tobacco farmers appear to contract principally as a means to obtain credit, which is consistently reported to be difficult to obtain,” says the study.

Tobacco farmers may struggle to make a living but tobacco manufacturers thrive. The world tobacco industry is worth billions of dollars. Cigarette retail values in 2014 were worth US$744 billion and over 5.6 trillion cigarettes were sold to more than one billion smokers according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. But, very few farmers make money from it.

The market is controlled by a few international companies; China National Tobacco Corporation, Philip Morris International, British American Tobacco, Japan Tobacco International and Imperial Brands. They buy tobacco from cheap emerging markets, like Malawi, for profit.

For years, governments around the world have been trying to clamp down on smoking because of its health implications, through stringent laws and higher taxes, yet tobacco use is increasing in some countries, says Zambian economist Grieve Chelwa.

“African incomes have been rising over the last couple of years and we know that tobacco consumption responds to rising incomes. Further, tobacco companies have put in place strategies (subtle advertising) to take advantage of rising incomes.”

And they flourish.

In 2016, British American Tobacco (BAT) announced its revenue went up 8.1% at constant rates of exchange, cigarette volume from subsidiaries was 497 billion, up by 2.2%, cigarette market share in key markets increased by 40 basis points and its brands performed exceptionally well with cigarette volume up 9.8% year ending September 30.

BAT plans to merge with its US partner R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, the company behind the famous camel cigarette brand, in a deal valued at $47 billion. It hopes to create a stronger global presence and move into new ventures like e-cigarettes.

In its third quarter, Philip Morris International reported net revenues of $19.9 billion, up by 2.6%, net revenues, excluding excise taxes, of $7 billion, up by 0.8%, operating income of $3 billion, up by 0.6%, and operating company’s income of $3.1 billion, up by 1.2%. In Africa, companies thrive because of weak regulation.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has a 75% benchmark of tax on the retail price, yet the African average is way below. Nigeria taxes cigarettes at only 20% of the retail price. Chelwa says ideally increasing taxes to reduce tobacco use should work anywhere because of the law of demand, increasing price reduces demand.

“But, the important point is the increases have to be real-inflation adjusted increments,” he says.

In Africa, high tobacco taxes are rare. WHO says only 33 countries, with 10% of the world’s population, have introduced taxes on tobacco products of more than 75%.

Tobacco tax revenues are on average 269 times higher than spending on tobacco control.

Tobacco companies are also good at finding new markets, with new smokers and weak regulations. According to an article published by The Lancet, a UK medical journal, tobacco use is declining in higher income countries, but nearly 80% of the world’s smokers live in low and middle income countries.

“Tobacco control regulations are not strong across most of the continent. Countries have ratified the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) but that’s all they have done. And sadly the tobacco industry is an important player in the setting of tobacco control policy in most African countries,” says Chelwa.

For years, tobacco companies argue they market merely to convince smokers to switch brands, but evidence published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information shows advertising drives smoking.

According to a WHO study, smoking has increased in 27 countries over the past 15 years. Seventeen of these are in Africa. In Cameroon, smokers more than doubled from 7% in 2000 to 22% last year. Congo-Brazzaville has seen the biggest spike. Nearly half of Congolese men smoke. Last year, 22% of its people admitted to smoking regularly, up from 6% in 2000.

“Only 42 countries, representing 19% of the world’s population, meet the best practice for pictorial warnings, which includes the warnings in the local language and cover an average of at least half of the front and back of cigarette packs,” says WHO.

In South Africa, cigarette advertising is banned. There are also restrictions on point of sale product display, vending machines and sponsorship of events, activities, individuals, organizations or governments. Now, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi has pledged to take it further by strengthening the Tobacco Products Control Act.

Motsoaledi says there should be no branding, no logos and no colors on cigarettes to discourage smoking. If the law is introduced, all cigarettes will be in a brown package with graphics that show the damage they can cause.

This is worrying for the tobacco industry. Christo van Staden heads the only primary tobacco processing factory in South Africa, Limpopo Tobacco Processors, that processes 12 million kilograms of tobacco. He says the effects could be catastrophic.

“The biggest impact [of tougher regulations] is the increase in illicit cigarettes which is a huge dent in the business of BAT and in the whole market. About 20 to 30 percent of cigarettes in Gauteng are illicit and they are paid way below the price,” he says.

As we meet, in Rustenburg, a two-hour drive from Johannesburg, Van Staden’s farmers have lost 30 hectors of tobacco to a passing storm. On this day, the sun blazes down from a cloudless azure sky. A sprinkler keeps the glossy lawns and flowers alive. Inside the factory, it is dark and you can hear a pin drop. The silence is almost tangible. There is no bustle and machines that usually crackle stand still. It is not tobacco season. All employees are upstairs in the offices working. Dressed in khaki shorts and shirt, Van Staden says tobacco farming is hard.

“For every hector, you need two people to work there and pick it by hand, it is very expensive. One hector costs about R130,000 ($9,500) to plant and the farmer needs to make at least 20 to 25 percent profit. Last year was a very tough year. There were very tough conditions and an average farmer did not make any profit at all.”

“Now they are supporting the local market but if they don’t get any benefit out of that, they have to compete with everyone else in plain packaging, then there is no reason for them to buy South African tobacco, they will literally walk out of here overnight and source their product from Brazil, India and China where they can buy a lot cheaper.

We are not ready for that. We would close these doors,” he says.

For Van Staden, closing doors means 10,000 farmers lose their income. He thinks there should be more education about the dangers of tobacco and efforts to keep youngsters away from smoking.

“I am a non-smoker and will not advise anyone to smoke. Most of my staff members don’t smoke. Unfortunately, people smoke everyday but see the warning on the packets and turn a blind eye. Because it’s such an unhealthy product, the governments around the world will try and eradicate it but I don’t think it will happen in the next 20 years. There are laws in this country that allow people to smoke and to close down the primary sector is not going to stop smoking overnight,” adds Van Staden.

South Africa will follow the UK, Ireland, Australia and France in banning branded packaging.

In Uganda, 4,800 kilometres from South Africa, it’s even tougher. If you light up in bars, restaurants or hotels, you will be fined $60 or jailed for up to two months.

Smokers must be at least 50 meters away from public spaces, such as schools, hospitals and taxi ranks.

Uganda’s new laws also ban the sale of electronic cigarettes, flavoured tobacco for water pipes, the sale of single cigarettes and tightened rules on labelling, advertising and selling tobacco to under-21s.

“We are strongly opposed to plain packing as we feel that there hasn’t been enough consultation and research on it. Our concern is the serious adverse consequences that it will have on the economy, jobs and investment; as well as potentially making counterfeit easier. It trounces fundamental intellectual property rights and freedoms guaranteed by the constitution,” says Joe Heshu, Acting Head of External Affairs at BAT.

According to Heshu, counterfeit cigarettes are a bigger issue. In 2015, South Africa’s Treasury lost R5.1 billion ($373 million) due to illicit trade. The trade accounts for about 24% of the market.

South Africa has been increasing tobacco taxes since 1994 and the big impact has been the reduction in consumption and prevalence, but Chelwa agrees there has been a minimal impact of the taxes on illicit trade.

“Illicit trade often has to do with tax administration and not taxes. Even if taxes were a cent, you’d still have illicit trade showing that it is not a tax level or tax rate issue but a tax administration issue,” he says.

On jobs, Chelwa argues “there are very few tobacco manufacturing jobs, very few given how mechanized manufacturing of cigarettes is.”

The big worry he says is in the field.

“Governments have to consciously find ways of transitioning tobacco farmers into growing other types of crops. This will require a lot of work,” says Chelwa.

Asked if he thinks cigarettes are killers, Heshu argues his company has launched e-cigarettes, which are supposedly less harmful products, in the UK, France, Germany, Italy and Poland.

“We are committed to the research and development of Next Generation Products (NGPs) and globally have invested over half a billion pounds during the past five years.

There is a growing body of evidence that NGPs do pose significantly fewer risks than cigarettes.”

For now, tobacco companies continue to thrive. Only 29 countries, representing 12% of the world’s population, have completely banned all forms of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, according to WHO.

Some of Malawi’s tobacco, grown by the likes of Ndilowe and Kube, is shipped 2,000 kilometers south of Mpherembe. In South Africa, 19% of the population, over the age of 15, smokes according to the World Bank. That’s almost one in five people and it is dangerous.

Tobacco is responsible for six million deaths each year. Of those, 600,000 die from the effects of second-hand smoke. This number is expected to increase to eight million by 2030 if current trends continue, says WHO.

Alexandra chain smoker, Mpho Ndlovu, knows this, yet he goes through three packs of cigarettes a day.

“I have been smoking since I was 15. It started as just playing with friends at school because we knew we weren’t allowed to. It was a way of being cool. I got hooked and have been smoking for 40 years,” says Ndlovu.

What started as a game became a habit and then an addiction.

“Smoking helps me when I’m nervous and I just enjoy it. I have tried to stop many times but have failed. I know this might one day kill me but, at this point, there is nothing I can do.”

Ndlovu spends R110.50 ($8) per day on cigarettes. That’s R766.50 ($56) per week and R3,066 ($225) per month and R36,792 ($2,700) per year and R183,960 ($13,500) in five years. If he continues smoking the same number of cigarettes per day for another 40 years, at this current price, he will spend around $100,000 on cigarettes. If invested, he could buy a house.

Ndlovu spends close to half of his R7,000 ($500) salary he makes working as a driver for a logistics company in Sandton.

“By the last week of the month, I would be out of money and sometimes I have to ask people if I can borrow or take some on credit from the spaza shop,” he says.

“When I smoke, especially on weekends, I drink as well. So the money I earn is never enough. My children get angry because they think I should be using the money on them. I don’t know how to stop.”

Ndlovu buys his cigarettes from Ntando Debeza, a hundred metres from his home.

Debeza’s spaza shop sells cigarettes, pipe tobacco, snuff, chewing tobacco, hookah and shisha.

“I make about R6,000 ($440) a month from this small shop. Most of the money comes from tobacco sales but I also sell other day-to-day products like bread and milk.

People come to buy and sometimes on credit and I collect money at the end of the month,” says Debeza.

This means Ndlovu’s debt grows. But, that’s not all. Smoking does not only affect the smoker. High levels of nicotine exposure from handling tobacco leaves may cause nicotine poisoning called Green Tobacco Sickness, with symptoms including nausea and vomiting.

Back in Mpherembe in Malawi, Kube says he is aware of the dangers of working in a tobacco field without protective clothing, and mostly its effects on minors. “I know children can get sick but what can we do? We need a lot of hands on the farm because this isn’t an easy crop to plant and prepare. It needs three times more people than corn but we don’t make enough money at all,” says Kube.

He is one of the few rural farmers who know this. And it gets worse. A 2009 survey in China revealed that only 38% of smokers knew that smoking causes coronary heart disease and only 27% knew that it can cause strokes.

“Among smokers who are aware of the dangers of tobacco, most want to quit. Counselling and medication can more than double the chance that a smoker who tries to quit will succeed. National comprehensive cessation services with full or partial cost coverage are available to assist tobacco users to quit in only 24 countries, representing 15% of the world’s population,” says WHO.

Cape Town-based entrepreneur Gareth Carter saw this crisis as an opportunity. He founded WeDoRecover, a company that helps patients who suffer from psychiatric and addiction problems.

“Finding the right addiction programme to meet someone’s specific needs is a complex process. The crisis and chaos synonymous with active addiction are overwhelming and the multitude of choices in the marketplace adds to the confusion,” says Carter.

According to Carter, people who smoke are more likely to drink alcohol and vice versa. He says alcoholics frequently present with a co-morbid nicotine addiction.

“As many as 80 percent of people addicted to alcohol and other drugs are frequent smokers, but the bulk will die of smoking-related disease rather than alcohol and drug-related disease…”

The damage doesn’t stop there. Carter adds that major depressive episodes among adults are highest in those addicted to nicotine and lowest in those who have quit or never started smoking.

“With nearly 80 percent of the world’s one billion smokers living in low- and middle-income countries, this is a very real public health care problem for us in Africa.

Making nicotine addiction prevention and treatment readily accessible to the youth counteracts a wide range of potential mental, physical and mood-disorder problems with far-reaching ramifications to families, communities and our economy,” he says.

Carter thinks if tobacco was “invented” today it would be classed with other illegal drugs. That’s not the case. The lucrative industry in Africa puffs on unfettered.

Tobacco and its environmental impact: an overview

Download (PDF, 839KB)