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Tobacco Crops

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

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

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

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National Cancer Institute – The Economics of Tobacco and Tobacco Control

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India’s move away from cigarettes creates a withdrawal problem for millions of tobacco workers

SBS World News India Correspondent reports: India is taking bold steps to fight the influence of Big Tobacco, but one of the most pressing challenges remains finding alternative employment for millions of tobacco workers.

It’s just after dawn and there’s a steady flow of traffic on the road to the Hunsur tobacco market, just outside the southern Indian city of Mysore.

Big bails of the dried brown leaves are being transported to auction on the backs of small trucks, Massey Ferguson tractors and bullock-driven carts.

By 7am hundreds of farmers have arrived at the market. Cigarette maker ITC, part-owned by British American Tobacco – maker of international brands such as Benson and Hedges and Lucky Strike – will buy approximately half the tobacco that’s for sale.

Shivabasappa is a second-generation tobacco grower. If the buyers judge his crop of Virginia flue-cured tobacco to be first-class he’ll earn 150 rupees (about $3) a kilogram.

“Tobacco has made me rich,” Shivabasappa told SBS. “I am making a lot of money so I will continue to farm it.”

The Karnataka farmer knows there are moves to curb his industry, but he’s proud of what he does. It’s lucrative enough to get a bank loan and attract a wife.

And that is one of the challenges for countries trying to reduce tobacco consumption – providing alternative employment for those who rely on the industry for their livelihoods.

India is the world’s third largest producer of tobacco behind China and Brazil and millions of people in all three countries are linked to the sector.

Earlier this year, India’s government approved a crop diversification program in 10 states.

Alternative employment for tobacco farmers was one of the key issues discussed over the past week at a World Health Organisation conference in Noida, near New Delhi.

Delegates from about 180 countries met to discuss progress on the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. In force since 2005, the treaty aims to deter tobacco use that kills approximately 6 million people every year.

“I’m pleased to say, following the adoption of the agreement, governments around the world have taken decisive steps not only to reduce tobacco use, but also to stand up to the multinational tobacco companies standing in the way of global progress,” Margaret Chan, Director-General of the WHO, wrote in the Guardian.

“The tide of tobacco use is beginning to turn. After decades of Big Tobacco targeting low and million-income countries and years of steadily increasing sales, tobacco sales show signs of dropping.”

“Where tobacco companies have tried to threaten and bully nations, governments have responded with firm measures to protect public health,” wrote Dr Chan.

The tobacco industry in India has been at war with the central government this year following a new rule stipulating that 85 per cent of cigarette packets be covered with health warnings.

And just as big tobacco fought those laws in Australia, it is challenging them in India too, with dozens of legal battles currently before the courts.

In an attempt to hold ground, India has called for backup; they want help from an international coalition of the willing.

Addressing the WHO conference, India’s health minister, JP Nadda told delegates his country couldn’t do it alone.

“Along with national will and resources, we also need the strength of international collaboration to mitigate the rising burden of the health, social and economic cost of tobacco,” he said.

Ahead of the conference, tobacco farmers protested outside the health ministry and the WHO regional office in New Delhi asking the government to boycott the meeting.

Thousands of farmers also sent the government a petition asking that no “unreasonable” proposals be adopted at the conference.

In Karnataka, one of the biggest tobacco producing states in India, farmer Shivabasappa is very aware the World Health Organisation is working with governments to curb tobacco production and consumption.

“Tobacco and cigarettes don’t cause cancer,” he says. “People who don’t smoke get cancer. It comes from alcohol and other things. Why should tobacco be banned?”

It’s unclear whether he is misinformed or unwilling to slay the golden goose.

Indonesia antsy over WTO’s expected tobacco ruling in 2017

The Indonesian government and tobacco farmers are waiting anxiously for the result of a dispute settlement against Australia’s plain tobacco packaging policy that they expect will come out in 2017, more than three years after the government submitted a request for consultations with the World Trade Organization (WTO).

The Trade Ministry’s director general for foreign trade negotiations, Iman Pambagyo, said he hoped that the settlement result would be in favor of tobacco-producing countries.

“We expect WTO panelists to announce the result in the first quarter of 2017. We still think that the policy violates the trade rules,” he said.

He added that while Indonesia fully supported the objectives of improving public health and protecting the environment, it was the country’s right to defend its economy against regulations that violated international trade rules, disciplines and obligations.

According to the WTO, on Sept. 20, 2013, Indonesia requested consultations with Australia concerning certain Australian laws and regulations that impose restrictions on trademarks, geographical indications and other plain packaging requirements on tobacco products and packaging.

The move came nearly a year after Australia became the first country that obliges all cigarettes sold in its jurisdiction to be wrapped in dark brown packaging in December 2012.

The Australian government found that it was the least attractive color, particularly for young people.

The policy went into force along with a tax increase to realize the country’s plan to bring down smoking rates from 16.6 percent in 2007 to less than 10 percent in 2018.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics claims that smoking rates decreased to 12.8 percent a year after the policy took effect, compared to 15.1 percent in 2010.

Australia’s move has been copied by the UK and France, which regulate that all cigarette packages manufactured for those countries must be in plain form.

Singapore considered a similar provision last year as well, but dropped the idea after encountering some technical difficulties.

After Indonesia submitted its consultation request to the WTO, several other countries and blocs requested to join the consultations, namely Brazil, Cuba, Guatemala, Nicaragua and the European Union.

The Indonesian Tobacco Farmers Association (APTI) told The Jakarta Post that although Australia was not the main buyer of Indonesian tobacco, more countries would apply similar policies.

“The policy’s provision will decrease our tobacco exports as antitobacco movements have emerged in other countries,” APTI head Wisnu Brata said.

Djarum, Sampoerna and Gudang Garam are among the companies whose cigarette brands are available in Australia.

Data from the Industry Ministry show that some 6 million people are involved in tobacco farms and businesses across the country. Many of them are export-oriented, such as in West Nusa Tenggara (NTB), East Java and Central Java.

The value of tobacco exports reached US$981 billion in 2015 and $1.02 trillion in 2014. (adt)

India, Bangladesh seek alternative crop for tobacco

India and Bangladesh on Thursday called for working towards finding an alternative crop for tobacco and avoiding interference by the tobacco industry in the welfare programmes.

Both countries have put a proposal before all members of the ongoing WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) to engage relevant stakeholders and ministries of their governments in working towards the alternative crop.

Taking into account the Article 17 and Article 18 of the convention, the two South Asian countries have also urged the international community to support mobilisation of resources to promote economically viable alternatives for tobacco growers and workers.

Article 17 of the convention includes the provision of support for economically viable alternative activities and Article 18 protection of the environment and the health of persons.

“We urge all the parties to call for policy coherence in the mandates of the governing bodies of relevant intergovernmental organisations,” said the draft copy — a copy of which is available with IANS.

According to Tobacco Institute of India (TII), tobacco is an extremely important commercial crop for the country as it contributes more than Rs 30,000 crore in tax revenue annually besides earning about Rs 6,000 crore in foreign exchange.

Tobacco farming is a source of livelihood to 4.6 crore Indians. Looking at the disease burden caused by tobacco, the government wants to curb tobacco farming.

However, the tobacco growers in the last couple of months have staged a series of protests, demanding that the government provide alternate crops farming for their survival which could equate the income generated by the tobacco farming.

The world’s biggest anti-tobacco convention WHO FCTC commenced at India Exposition Mart here on November 7. It was inaugurated by Health Minister J.P. Nadda and would conclude on November 12.

India and Bangladesh, through their draft, have also proposed the member nations of the WHO FCTC to coordinate with intergovernmental organisations with relevant expertise such as the Food and Agricultural Organization, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) to mobilise required support for interested parties in developing pilot projects.

“We want the member nations to promote international cooperation and the exchange of information among interested parties, including South-South and Triangular cooperation,” the draft report said.

“To continue to document experiences and lessons learnt concerning alternative livelihood, organise and periodically update international database of resources, within the WHO FCTC coordination platform, of best practices, instruments and measures to support the implementation of the policy options and recommendations,” said the draft report.

India and Bangladesh have also sought the WHO FCTC to monitor on parties in terms of implementation of the Article 17 and Article 18, and submit the progress reports during the next convention on the implementation of the present decisions, including the experiences gathered before the sessions.

In another proposal, India, Thailand and Uruguay have sought WHO FCTC members to create a forum for the discussions and explore possible legal options, under the auspices of the Convention of Parties (COP) and Convention Secretariat, to minimise the risk of the tobacco industry making undue use of international trade and investment instruments to target tobacco control measures.

The three countries, through their proposal, have also sought creation of expert groups to develop recommendations on combating the tobacco industry’s legal challenge to the sovereign right of the states to regulate tobacco as a public health measure.

“To develop options to provide special treatment of tobacco in trade and investment agreements, in considerations of its unique nature,” said the draft copy.

The three nations have also sought that every party of the convention should nominate members to the expert group, with a maximum of three per World Health Organization (WHO) region, taking into account relevant technical expertise, in particular in treating tobacco uniquely in trade and investment agreements


In 2012, the G8 initiated a development programme intended to lift 50 million people out of poverty until 2022. The New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition (NAFSN) is implemented in 10 countries in sub-Saharan Africa and uses a multi-stakeholder approach strongly involving the private sector.

From the beginning, the initiative has been closely monitored by civil society organisations worldwide, which have identified several issues with the NAFSN. Governments are forced to implement reforms in order to gain increased investment through the programme. The liberalisation of farmland opens the door to land grabbing, leaving smallholder farmers without their most important means of production.

As a result, the NAFSN favours big agribusiness over smallholder farmers, who produce more than 70 percent of the world’s food. In this light, the programme is not consistent with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Goals.

Malawi is a densely populated country with 35.8 percent of its population undernourished. At the same time, the country is highly dependent on tobacco exports, which generate roughly 50 percent of the total export revenues. Malawi is the world’s top exporter of Burley tobacco and not a Party to the FCTC.

Under the European Union, the NAFSN in Malawi includes, on the pretext of improved food security, an increase in tobacco growing in terms both of yield per hectare and in area cultivated. Furthermore, the programme co-operates with subsidiaries of the world’s leading two leaf tobacco merchants: Alliance One Malawi (AOM) and Limbe Leaf Tobacco Company (LLTC).

According to the 2014 progress report, AOM seeks, inter alia, to increase the production of flue-cured Virginia tobacco six-fold and to nearly double Burley tobacco production. Additionally, the company plans to triple its area under cultivation, for tobacco as well as for maize and soya.

LLTC basically intends to further the transformation of the tobacco growing sector in Malawi from the auction system to the integrated production system. By directly contracting farmers, the company gains control over the whole production cycle and is able to exert its power when it comes to grade leaf tobacco and to set prices.

Another company, Mpatsa Farms Ltd., planned to venture into fish farming and rice cultivation, cotton, soya and maize. In 2014, the company acknowledged it gave up those plans instead channelling resources to tobacco growing “due to preferential prices”.

Thus, the NAFSN has reinforced Malawi’s dependence on tobacco exports. It endangers food security and increases poverty among smallholder and tenant farmers.

Even the former Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter, reported the extremely precarious conditions of tobacco tenants in Malawi after his visit in 2013.

Apart from threatening food security, instead of furthering it, the participation of tobacco companies in NAFSN is used by tobacco industry-funded front groups like the International Tobacco Growers’ Association (ITGA) to promote their crop. Newly elected ITGA vice president Reuben Maigwa, from Malawi, even claimed the industry’s integrated production system would lead to sustainable tobacco growing and food security.

In a country where one-third of the population is undernourished, it is absurd and cynical to promote tobacco growing instead of switching to food crops. If Malawi were to use all its tobacco cultivation area to grow food, the harvest could feed 750,000 people.

The participation of tobacco companies in NAFSN only serves the industry’s commercial interests, including boosting their image as a responsible industry, which is promoted in the fight against tobacco control measures. Therefore, FCTC Article 5.3 must also be implemented in development policies in order to achieve more policy coherence for a sustainable future.

Sonja von Eichborn

WHO discusses ENDS, continues taking fight to tobacco industry

As the World Health Organization’s seventh Conference of the Parties (COP7) in India reached its halfway mark on Wednesday, the WHO was busy pushing for all loopholes to be closed in article 5.3 of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).

The article states: “In setting and implementing their public health policies with respect to tobacco control, Parties shall act to protect these policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry in accordance with national law.”

The WHO believes this should be given a broad interpretation, meaning that tobacco companies should be excluded entirely from discussions of policy and from events such as COP7.

Meanwhile, the WHO’s hostile tone continued unabated, with Big Tobacco and all pro-tobacco advocates being labelled bullies and trolls on Twitter.

Also at the conference, discussion of electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) and electronic non-nicotine delivery systems (ENNDS) – terms in which the WHO includes e-cigarettes – and water pipe tobacco products continued.

The WHO has been highly critical of vaping and has also attacked the tradition of inhaling tobacco through the water pipe as extremely harmful.

Down on the farm

But agriculture remained a major focus, illustrating how the WHO may have to balance health ideals with economic realities.

Tobacco farms have become major employers across the world, and one of the stumbling blocks in the WHO’s drive toward a tobacco-free world is the loss of livelihood for millions of people involved in the growing industry.

As a result, one of the subjects being discussed at the event in Noida, near New Delhi, is economically-sustainable alternatives to tobacco growing.

In a report by the FCTC earlier this year, alternative pilot projects and new and better practices were outlined and their implementation urged. With pro-tobacco lobbies warning of reduced employment and damaged economies, the convention secretariat said: “In reality, annual consumption usually decreases by fractions of percentage points, thus allowing growers to gradually diversify into other activities as government adjustment programmes are implemented.”

Yet fewer than a quarter of nations that are parties to the treaty have made tobacco-growing alternatives a priority.

“Plenty of crops are available, from vegetables to fruits. Alternate livelihoods should be seriously explored and supported through appropriate marketing interventions which involves multiple markets and agencies,” said one delegate, who refused to be named.

Paying the lawyers

The issue of liability is also under discussion. The WHO has committed itself to provide legal help for civil and criminal litigation against tobacco companies. According to the WHO FCTC, providing tools to the 180 parties that have signed the treaty is giving them an opportunity to “avail themselves of effective means to hold the tobacco industry liable”.

Each party has to submit the progress it has made in building databases of information, engaging lawyers, and so on, and also propose how they should be subsidised.

Reducing global tobacco consumption by 30% by 2025 remains one of the most important agenda items for the WHO FCTC.

– Swati Gupta ECigIntelligence contributing writer