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Malawi’s forests going up in smoke as tobacco industry takes heavy toll

Malawi is reliant on tobacco for 60% of foreign earnings, but while demand is falling the cost of environmental damage caused by the industry is rising

This high level of marketing in poorer countries is consistent with the tobacco industry’s targeting of these countries. They are key to the industry’s future. In the west, the tobacco industry’s profits continue to increase despite the decline in smoking rates , but it is unclear how long this pricing power will hold out in the face of growing regulations. The requirement for tobacco to be sold in plain packs, due to come into force in the UK next year, is a particular threat.

Of all the world regions, Africa is probably most critical to the long-term future of the tobacco industry. The tobacco epidemic is at its earliest stage in Africa, meaning the industry still has millions of potential customers to recruit. Marketing will drive this recruitment, and industry marketing deliberately targets children, recognising that today’s teenager is tomorrow’s potential regular customer.

It is depressing that 10 years after the framework convention came into force, tobacco marketing remains ubiquitous. Evidence shows that the FCTC has led to significant progress in other areas of tobacco control but that comprehensive bans on marketing are one of the treaty’s least adopted measures. A concerted effort is needed to implement and enforce marketing restrictions before millions more die needlessly. Holding the tobacco industry to account is an essential first step.

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