SmokeFree Malawi rings alarm bell on tobacco

SmokeFree Malawi, an advocacy group against smoking and tobacco related challenges has expressed deepest disappointment over the low tobacco prices at the start of the 2012 tobacco sales “despite the hard work of ordinary Malawians enslaved by the crop in the past four and half decades of independence”.

In a media statement r issued on Wednesday and whose copy Nyasa Times has obtained, the advocacy group brings to the attention of President Bingu wa Mutharika, MPs and the Civil Society that smoking and tobacco production in Malawi continues to impact negatively on Malawians livelihood.

“After low prices at the Auction Floors, which has sent thousands of ordinary people into poverty during the 2010/2011 tobacco season, buyers have resorted to stealing from Malawians yet again by offering prices as low as 0.60 cents for a kilogramme of tobacco at the start of the sales in Lilongwe.

Smoke Free Malawi director: Kondwani Munthali

“Many farmers have not been able to grow tobacco due to mainly their inability to repay loans of last year and the low yields, with investments of K80, 000 realizing only K30, 000 in the past season. Other farmers had to repay their loans with their livestock or iron sheets sending them into extreme poverty,” reads the statement  release entitled “Save the Poor Farmer, Child Labour, Stop Smoking Tobacco”.

The group statement signed by its national director Kondwani Bell Munthali,  observes that buyers have an obligation to respond to the market situation and this year’s initial prices do not reflect the supply and demand side of the crop as very little tobacco is available on the market.

SmokeFree says the poor prices “need to change now” to enable “poor farmers” realize enough money after their sweat.

The advocacy group also bemoans government’s insistence to hold the Kwacha at its higher value than the real market value, noting that this would hurt the tobacco farmers more than anyone else.

It says tobacco inputs and materials such as sacks continue to be pegged on a parallel market value.

“After selling and earning their tobacco money at a low value, farmers will end up biggest losers, should devaluation still take place later in the year. The most obtaining suggestion is to have a special rate of K210 to a dollar for the tobacco market to minimize the farmers’ losses later in the year,” reads the press release.

On tobacco and health, the advocacy group syas it is important that workers at auction floors wear protective clothes.

“We demand immediate and compulsory provision of nose masks to protect thousands of Malawians that access the tobacco dust and fumes in the industry,” says SmokeFree Malawi.

It also expresses “great concern” over “the continuing road shows and single cigarette promotions by cigarette companies in Malawi “in violation of the set International standards that marketing and single stick sales are not encouraged as they can easily be accessed by minors”.

The group also bemoans cases of children “at bus stations and other shops” being used to sale cigarettes “without the law taking its course”.

“We demand an immediate stop to this and ask Government to stop licensing cigarette manufacturing in the country,” the release reads.

SmokeFree Malawi then says Malawi lacks the necessary capacity to treat lung cancer and “the other 60 types of cancers that smoking has been proven to cause”.

“The country cannot afford to continue putting its young citizenry at risk, as the combined consequences of smoking and drinking of cheap products has already proven to be fatal with recorded deaths of young people exceeding normal levels.

It says that in November 2010, the Malawi Government made a commitment that it will sign the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) and become a party to negotiate better. This according to SmokeFree would have meant commencing to protect citizens from dangerous second hand smoking, which in Malawi is high, as smokers, mostly men smoke anywhere, even in homes where children access the smoke.

“SmokeFree Malawi is dismayed by the fact that the Ministry of Agriculture and the Tobacco Control Commission, who are the key stakeholders in moving the process have decided to be quiet and drag the process.

“This is a betrayal to our national integrity and commitment we publicly pronounced. We demand that Government should sign and make sure all the necessary processes are completed by May 30, 2012,” reads the statement.

In conclusion, SmokeFree Malawi says tobacco has remained and will remain a crop that enslaves Malawians and holds the country at ransom.

“The country’s potential in other sectors such as Tourism and agro-processing, crops such as soya beans, groundnuts and other legumes has been undermined deliberately by some technocrats to continue dependency on tobacco. Malawi does not need tobacco, and smoking is contributing to morbidity and mortality of its productive age group,” it concludes.

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