Pakistan: Govt Asked to End Exploitation of Tobacco Growers
On the evening of the World Food Day, which is being marked across the world on October 16, The Network for Consumer Protection joins with public health and workers’ rights groups globally in calling on the tobacco industry to end exploitation of tobacco farmers and the government to support farmers who want to transition away from growing tobacco.
Transitioning out of tobacco will not only ensure a better future for the farmers but will also help address food security concerns created by tobacco farming. The lure of short-term profits from raising tobacco often causes farmers to abandon the farming of traditional staple crops that feed and nourish people, especially vulnerable populations.
World Food Day is being marked in the midst of a misinformation campaign organised by tobacco industry front groups, like the International Tobacco Growers Association (ITGA), in order to undermine the efforts of the world’s governments to tackle the deadly global tobacco epidemic and assist farmers to transition from tobacco farming.
ITGA’s main supporters are international cigarette and tobacco leaf companies, including Alliance One International, British American Tobacco, Imperial Tobacco International, Japan Tobacco International, Philip Morris International and Universal Leaf. Tobacco companies fund and direct ITGA to influence policy makers and block lifesaving tobacco control measures.
Historically, the tobacco industry has exploited farmers in Pakistan and around the world by encouraging them to cultivate tobacco leaves and then intentionally keeping prices too low to be profitable. These low prices, as well as unfair contracts that make farmers pay inflated prices for inputs undermine farmers’ bargaining power, causing them to fall into a cycle of debt that perpetuates poverty.
In Pakistan, different types of tobacco cultivation is around 32,470 hectares and more than 40,000 farmers earn their livelihood through tobacco cultivation. Around the world, the tobacco industry has engaged in sophisticated campaigns designed to shift attention away from its role in keeping tobacco prices low and purchasing tobacco produced through the child labour.
Cigarette makers and leaf companies exaggerate the impact of proven tobacco control policies on tobacco farmers and misrepresent the goals of these policies, which are designed to protect public health and help address the six million deaths caused each year by tobacco use.
In Pakistan tobacco use kills more than 100,000 people each year. Those who don’t die of tobacco-related disease can suffer from several debilitating diseases including cancer, heart and lungs disease. Additionally, tobacco cultivation undermines the health and wellness of farmers, who experience illness from exposure to pesticides and nicotine. Tobacco farmers’ cumulative seasonal exposure to nicotine absorbed through the skin is equivalent to smoking at least 180 cigarettes.
“Though the tobacco industry claims to have the best interest of Pakistan’s farmers in mind, the reality is that the tobacco industry values only its own profits – often at the expense of our farmers,” said Nadeem Iqbal Executive Coordinator of the The Network.
“Pakistan’s tobacco farmers often live in extreme poverty, bound to the potentially deadly life of tobacco farming, without viable alternatives. It’s time for the tobacco industry to end this exploitation of our tobacco farmers and for the government to support the transition of our tobacco farmers to alternative and sustainable livelihoods,” said Mr Iqbal.
This call from public health groups comes during the sixth session of the Conference of the Parties (COP6) to the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), which is meeting in Moscow, Russia, to discuss development and implementation of the Convention.
The world’s only international public health treaty, the WHO FCTC has 179 Parties representing almost 90 per cent of the world’s population. It obligates countries to implement proven methods to reduce tobacco use, including smoke-free public places, large pictorial warning labels on tobacco products, increased tobacco taxes and bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship. In addition to these life-saving measures, the treaty calls on countries to work with tobacco farmers to find suitable alternative livelihoods and to help them transition from exploitative tobacco farming.
Without urgent action to curb the tobacco epidemic, including measures to protect and transition tobacco farmers, tobacco use will kill one billion people around the world this century, most of them in low and middle-income countries.