Tobacco farming should not be an occupational life choice

Alice Sagwidza Tembe, CNS Correspondent, Swaziland
Life always throws a rock and a hard place and, as individuals, every day we have to make a choice. This week I engaged a colleague, Rutendo Mamba (name changed) on the choices to be made regarding the use of tobacco. In no uncertain terms Rutendo expressed that shutting down the tobacco industry will rob a large population of a source of livelihood.

Many have graduated from reputed institutes of education to meaningfully input into human development funded by tobacco farming. She explained that, while both her parents raised her, it was her grandfather’s tobacco farming income that kept her in school, put clothes on her, laid food on the table and provided a shelter over her head. Vehemently she explained, “…and there are plenty of me out there.”

Realising that, for many across the world, tobacco farming might be an occupational life choice they are faced with, I took an opportunity to share with Rutendo some of the take home lessons from a webinar recently organised by CNS. Prof Rama Kant, a WHO Director General Awardee for Tobacco Control gave the grim statistics that one third of the world population consumes tobacco, which kills nearly 7 million people every year, out of which 1 million are non tobacco users who die due to second hand smoke, emanating from the cigarettes of others. Tobacco users who die prematurely deprive their families of income, raise cost of healthcare and hinder economic development.

Hoping that further enlightenment will give more clarity to Rutendo on the hazards of tobacco use, I explained how the tobacco companies bribe government officials to dishonour WHO’s global treaty to protect the populace-Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC)- by thwarting life-saving policies, as exposed by a whistle blower in 2015. This was initiated by the British American Tobacco (BAT) throughout East Africa, as shared by Cloe Franko, Senior International Organiser, Challenge Big Tobacco, Corporate Responsibility International and Leadership of Network for Accountability of Tobacco Transnationals (NATT). It is with full knowledge that tobacco brings with it poverty, suffering, disease and even death, that some governments are blindsided to keep lining their pockets, while the general populace bears the burden.

The introduction of the fashionable e-cigarettes is a further attempt to attract the population, especially the younger generation, and keep them hooked to continue filling the coffers of the unscrupulous tobacco industry. E-cigarettes are the latest attempt of Big Tobacco, more to keep up with advancing technology, than they are about helping people to quit tobacco. As most branding and marketing tactics are, e-cigarettes are being presented as a safe way of smoking tobacco flavoured with bubble-gum and vanilla flavour, so that perhaps ‘one can destroy their health in style’.

Franko explained that tobacco industry interference stalls implementation of FCTC, impedes good governance, and has huge economic toll and costs lives. She said that these problems can be countered by the judicious use of Articles 5.3 and 19 of the FCTC. Article 5.3 addresses tobacco industry interference, and its implementation in countries will advance good governance and will pave the way for demand reduction. Article 19 , addressing the tobacco industry liability, will help in recouping healthcare costs and stop abusive and illicit behaviour of the tobacco industry.

The theme for World No Tobacco Day 2017 is ‘Tobacco-A threat to development’. Curbing tobacco use is imperative as all people are at risk of the detrimental health and economic effects of tobacco,. Tobacco usage increases the economic burden of already impoverished families, diverting resources that could otherwise be spent on education, food  and a healthier life style. Further, those who get sick add on to families’ health expenditure and robbing the family of quality of life. Therefore, enforcing the implementation of WHO FCTC through its MPOWER strategy —Monitor tobacco use and prevention policies; Protect people from tobacco smoke; Offer help to quit tobacco use; Warn about the dangers of tobacco; Enforce bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship; Raise taxes on tobacco to reduce the demand for tobacco— is necessary to protect people from the harms of tobacco use.

As Dr Rama Kant said, “Tobacco use is a threat to any person, regardless of gender, age, race, cultural or educational background. It brings suffering, disease, and death, impoverishing families and national economies. Every person should be able to breathe tobacco-smoke-free air.”

Notably, tobacco use is a leading preventable cause of death globally. Tobacco control is about protecting lives, and safeguarding healthy livelihoods.

Alice Sagwidza Tembe, Citizen News Service - CNS
May 31, 2017