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March 28th, 2012:

Wen fires alcohol, tobacco warning (South China Morning Post)

Bloomberg in Beijing
Mar 28, 2012
Premier Wen Jiabao pledged to ban the use of public funds to buy cigarettes and “high-end” alcohol, warning that corruption may endanger the Communist Party’s survival.

Wen, at a State Council meeting yesterday, also said state-owned enterprises and agencies must strictly control funds used to renovate luxury office buildings or buy artwork, a statement on the government’s website said.

“Corruption is the biggest danger facing the ruling party,” Wen said, according to the statement. “If not dealt with properly, the problem may change the nature of, or terminate, the political regime.”

Wen, who didn’t give specific cases or identify any officials, earlier this month said the mainland must continue overhauling its political system or risk a return to the chaos of the Cultural Revolution.

Consumption by government officials using public funds has helped push up the prices of products such as China Kweichow Moutai 106-proof liquor. Mao-tai, the sorghum-based liquor that Premier Zhou Enlai used to toast visiting US president Richard Nixon in 1972, sometimes sells for twice the maximum retail price set by the company.

A half-litre bottle of Flying Moutai, the company’s best-selling brand, costs 1,980 yuan (HK$2,430), the Sam’s Club online shopping website shows.

China Kweichow Moutai fell 6.4 per cent in Shanghai trading, the biggest drop in two months. Rival Wuliangye Yibin dropped 6.5 per cent in Shenzhen, also the biggest drop since January.

Wen, due to step down next March after his second five-year term, said yesterday government agencies must publish detailed information about spending related to car purchases and use, and overseas travel.

State-owned enterprises and financial institutions should not sponsor events unrelated to their businesses, he said.

Sun Liping, a sociology professor at Tsinghua University, said the number of mainland protests, including strikes and demonstrations, rose to at least 180,000 in 2010, double the number four years earlier.

Smoking Kills: Child Labour on Malawi’s Tobacco Farms | Think Africa Press

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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Smoking Kills: Child Labour on Malawi’s Tobacco Farms

Tobacco is Malawi’s top export but at the cost of its children’s health and education.



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A young girl in Malawi.

Landlocked and with approximately 80% of its population living in rural areas, Malawi’s economy is largely structured around its agricultural sector. Agriculture accounts for more than one third of the Malawi’s gross domestic product (GDP) and 90% of its export revenues. Tobacco alone comprises over half of Malawi’s exports.

While large-scale cultivation of tobacco has historically been concentrated in the United States, today approximately 75% of the world’s tobacco is harvested in developing countries. Malawi is now one of the world’s five largest producers, and it appeals to cigarette companies “largely due to low tariffs on unmanufactured tobacco imports, cheap labour and lack of regulations.”

But although the tobacco industry brings in a significant amount of foreign capital, the rapid growth of Malawi’s largely unregulated tobacco industry raises questions about the health and wellbeing of the industry’s workers.

Child labour

The transfer of tobacco cultivation to countries such as Malawi has increased the profits enjoyed by cigarette companies. However, a portion of these profits is derived from the use of child labour. According to Professor Stanton Glantz, “replacing child labour with adults paid the minimum wage would increase the production costs by $10 million per year in Malawi alone.”

Although Plan International’s campaign against the use of child labour in Malawi has successfully deterred larger farms, small-scale farms continue to exploit children. A study by the group revealed the true extent of such labour, finding that “37% of children aged between 5 and 15 were involved in labour”, and that “of these, 53.5% worked in agriculture – including fishing, forestry and hunting – but most were working in tobacco production”. Children earn approximately $0.17 for working 12-hour days.

The Malawian government has been particularly lenient in prosecuting those found to be employing children. According to MacDonald Mumba, Plan International’s Malawi advisor, “over the past two years, only 49 farm owners have been prosecuted in Malawi…most received a $34 fine.” Although Malawi is a member of the International Labour Organisation, the government appears to be prioritising the procurement of foreign capital over protecting the rights of the country’s children.

Progress in realising the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), in particular goal two (the achievement of universal primary education), is being undermined as the government turns a blind eye to the 80,000 children working illegally on tobacco farms. Malawi’s potential for reaching goal two has previously been characterised as “possible to achieve if some changes are made”, but if the government fails to redress the violation of child labour laws, further progress will be jeopardised.

It must be noted, however, that many of the children working on tobacco farms do so to supplement their families’ meagre earnings. In order to successfully eliminate child labour then, a holistic approach including the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, must be undertaken.

Health Concerns

The health of those working in the tobacco fields are also at risk. Due to the lack of protective clothing, many of those working on the farms suffer from Green Tobacco Sickness (GTS). According to the World Health Organisation, symptoms of GTS include “severe headaches, abdominal cramps, muscle weakness, breathing difficulties, diarrhoea and vomiting, high blood pressure and fluctuations in heart rate”. It is estimated that people working in tobacco fields without adequate protection absorb close to 54 milligrams of nicotine per day. That is equivalent to smoking 50 cigarettes.

While GTS is dangerous to all, it is particularly hazardous to children. A child’s brain is particularly susceptible to nicotine absorption. As Neal Benowitz, Professor of Medicine, Psychiatry and Biopharmaceutical Sciences, explains “numerous animal studies have shown that administration of nicotine during childhood and adolescence produces long-lasting changes in brain structure and function, as well as behavioural changes, that are not seen when nicotine is administered to adults. Thus the brain of a child or adolescent is particularly vulnerable to long-lasting adverse neurobehavioral effects of nicotine exposure.”

The Malawian government’s continued prioritisation of foreign currency earnings over its commitment to abolishing child labour has serious repercussions. Not only does the government’s leniency directly contradict its commitment to the MDGs, but it also imperils the health of child workers. Abolishing child labour in Malawi will only be achieved through a multilateral commitment that includes the government, the growers and the purchasers of Malawi’s tobacco.

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Pakistan raids shisa

KARACHI: Karachi Municipal Corporation (KMC) has tightened the noose on restaurants serving sheesha, followed by a notification by the home department on Monday.

According to the KMC commissioner, Roshan Ali Sheikh, KMC raided two places, Damascus and Thali Inn, and confiscated 10 sheeshas.

The home department has banned sheesha under Section 144. However, the issue is not new. In 2009, the Sindh government?s health department issued Statutory Regulatory Order of 2009 which declared all public places to be completely smoke-free. It did not even allow designated smoking areas at work or public places. In May 2010, the Sindh Assembly unanimously passed a resolution against smoking sheesha in restaurants and public places. The government had issued notices to 22 restaurants in June 2011, but then became lax about it.

Meanwhile, the joints had continued to serve sheesha in rude defiance of the official orders issued.

However, this time, Commissioner Sheikh ordered his deputy commissioners and assistant commissioners of all the five districts to crackdown against, not only against the cafes but sheesha smokers as well.

While expressing his gratitude to the provincial government for introducing the ban, Sheikh said that the city administration was already raiding places because of the large number of complaints being received by them from concerned parents, who argued that smoking sheesha was often a precursor to the use of hard drugs. He said that a grand operation will be launched later this week, a plan has already been outlined for indiscriminate action against anyone involved in flouting the ban. ?We will not to succumb to any pressure whatsoever till all the sheesha joints are closed for good,? he vowed. ?This is a serious health hazard as identified by Pakistan Medical Association.?

Published in The Express Tribune, March 27th, 2012.

Breathing new force into smoke laws

SCMP – 28 March 2012

Beijing is weighing up amendments to regulations that would ban smoking in all indoor public places

Beijing city authorities are considering implementing a complete ban on smoking in indoor public spaces, a move that some see as the precursor to a similar ban nationwide.

The Standing Committee of the Beijing Municipal People’s Congress has released draft amendments to the capital’s anti-smoking regulations for public consultation. They would prohibit smoking in lifts, corridors and underground passages in all public places, as well as at outdoor bus stations and sport venues.

The draft marks out indoor workplaces, public transport waiting rooms and vehicles, and indoor public places as areas that must be free of smoking. Smokers would also face fines of between 50 and 200 yuan for smoking in places such restaurants, museums and hospitals, where smoking has been banned since 2008. The current fine is 10 yuan.

Managers of public spaces may also be fined between 10,000 and 30,000 yuan if they fail to persuade smokers to put out their cigarettes.

Another amendment would require tobacco retailers to halt sales on World No Tobacco Day, which falls on May 31 each year.

Progress on tobacco control has been slow in Beijing, even though the city introduced its first ban on smoking in public places in 1995 and another in 2008 ahead of the Olympics.

On May 1 last year, the mainland introduced a ban on smoking in indoor public places. However, workplaces were not included and the ban, initiated by the Ministry of Health, has proved difficult to enforce. A survey in November found that just one in five restaurants in Beijing was obeying the rules.

“China has hundreds of millions of smokers and many tobacco producers are state-run. I don’t think the ban can work effectively,” said Ginessa Huang, who works as a clerk in Shenzhen, said. “I’m a second-hand smoker every day in the office.”

Shanghai introduced a smoking ban covering most public places in 2010, but it is not well enforced. Harbin , the capital of Heilongjiang province , banned smoking in all public indoor areas, including workplaces, in May last year.