At the 17th World Conference on Tobacco Control held in Cape Town, South Africa, tobacco control experts continue to pile pressure on all countries, including Malawi to take stronger action in protecting public health by ratifying the World Health Organization (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).
Emma Wanyonyi, Director at the Kenyan based, International Institute for Legal Affairs says that Malawi’s policy makers need to move quickly to ratify the FCTC as this is important to save lives of people who smoke and those exposed to second hand smoke.
“The ratification of the WHO FCTC is possible for countries like Malawi. It is important to note that the FCTC provides alternatives to shift to more productive crops other than tobacco”, said Wanyonyi whose organization lobbies for an anti-tobacco free society.
The FCTC first became into force in 2003 and has 181 countries as parties who have ratified it, yet Malawi continues to miss out on the list. Many policy makers argue that the local economy would collapse and create huge unemployment if the country ratifies the largest health treaty on the planet.
Wanyonyi notes that not only in Malawi but in also other countries, the tobacco industry continues to interfere with tobacco control efforts by bribing policy makers to stop them from taking drastic action in reducing tobacco use.
“ We know that in many countries, policy makers have been bribed by the tobacco industry to stop them from taking action, for instance in Kenya, the tobacco industry has even financed and sponsored policy makers on lucrative international trips”, she observes.
The Six Edition of the 2018 Tobacco Atlas launched at a news conference in Cape Town observes that many farmers report difficulty obtaining credit for other economic activities. For some, it is a way to generate cash in low-cash economies to pay for necessities like education and health care. Yet, the research demonstrates consistently that many tobacco farmers under estimate their costs and overestimate their returns
In addition it points out that in Malawi for instance most small holder farmers do not benefit from tobacco, while it is the largest tobacco multinational companies who make huge profits, while farmers remain in abject poverty.
“Recent research across major tobacco-growing countries demonstrates that farming tobacco is not prosperous for most smallholder farmers. Many farmers—including many with contracts with oligopolistic leaf-buying companies—pay too much for inputs (e.g., fertilizer, pesticides, etc.),receive very low prices for their leaf, and dedicate hundreds of hours to a mostly unprofitable economic pursuit” reads in part of the report co-authored by Vital Strategies, a New York based organization and the American Cancer Society.
The report also highlighted that “more than 5 700 of its people are killed by tobacco-caused diseases. Still, more than 5 000 children (10-14 years old) and 70 7000 adults (15+ years old) continued to use tobacco each day.”
According to the report, government can help by investing in supply and value chains, finding new markets for these other products, and divesting from any participation in tobacco cultivation. They can also re-invest vigorously in education and skills development, both agricultural and non-agricultural.
Article 17 of the WHO FCTC compels Parties to promote viable alternative livelihoods for tobacco farmers. The authors note that a few governments have made such efforts.
One of the report’s co-authors, Jeffrey Drope says that the tobacco industry continues to market tobacco and sell as much as products as they can to attract more smokers.
“The tobacco industry is trying hard to sell its products. We have to counter the industry. They use various ways and tactics such as litigation, as public health people we have to look into these tactics and tackle them”, Says Drope.
During the official launch of the conference, WHO director, Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus warned that WHO will not just watch the tobacco industry interfering with control efforts to undermine public health and appealed to all countries that have not ratified the WHO FCTC to quickly sign the treaty.
The Conference takes in Africa for the first time and comes at a time when international pressure mounts to reduce use of tobacco products through various measures such as high taxes, plain packaging and banning advertising and promotion of tobacco products especially cigarettes.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :