Governments must challenge Big Tobacco

19 Oct 2012


Governments must stand strong against big tobacco front groups

This week, a European association of tobacco growers called UNITAB will be holding their 33rd Congress in Budapest, Hungary. This is one of several tobacco growers’ association events this year organized to attempt to undermine a lifesaving global public health treaty which could save 200 million lives if fully implemented by 2050. It’s no accident that this Congress is taking place less than three weeks before the fifth round of negotiations of theglobal tobacco treaty, and it’s no secret that Big Tobacco created and continues to fund front groups like the growers associations that are attending this conference, the most vocal of which is the International Tobacco Growers’ Association (ITGA), as a proxy to protect its profits. We’re calling on the Hungarian government and governments around the world to stand strong in their efforts to address the tobacco epidemic and condemn this global misinformation campaign.

Tobacco farming is bad for workers’ health and the environment and has a history of exploitative labor practices. It poses serious health hazards to workers, including green tobacco sickness from handling wet leaves, respiratory illness from the curing process and consumption of carcinogens. Because tobacco giants like Philip Morris International, British American Tobacco and Japan Tobacco exert broad control over the tobacco production system, they have created a supply system that exploits farmers and traps them in endless cycles of debt while ensuring continued growth in corporate profits. There is also no accountability for a long and sordid history of using child labor in the tobacco fields.

That is why 176 countries have gone out of their way to include language in the global tobacco treaty that encourages collaboration and research to transition farmers from cultivating a crop that kills its consumers, impoverishes farmers and destroys the environment to one that is sustainable and nourishes.

Governments and communities are wising up to the fact that though Big Tobacco uses tobacco growers’ associations as its mouthpiece to claim that tobacco-related agriculture creates jobs and boosts economic development, the facts indicate otherwise. We know that tobacco products harm public health and the global economy, imposing enormous costs on governments, consumers and private employers.

The net economic impact of growing and consuming tobacco is to deepen poverty. Every year tobacco-related conditions cost the global community $500 billion, more than all low- and middle-income countries spend on healthcare combined. That’s why even the World Bank, which favors market liberalization, has concluded that comprehensive tobacco control policies are good for the global economy. The 1999 World Bank report Curbing the Epidemic: Governments and the Economics of Tobacco Control helped create the political will for a strong global tobacco treaty.

That’s why ITGA’s coordinated strategy to promote Big Tobacco’s deadly agenda has been met with widespread protest from Manila to Indonesia to Nigeria over the past few months. Governments and communities around the world are ready to see progress in reversing the deadliest epidemic on the planet and won’t let Big Tobacco or its allies sidetrack progress in saving millions of lives.

Big Tobacco also mobilized ITGA in advance of the last round of negotiations on the global tobacco treaty, formally known as the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), in 2010 in Punta del Este, Uruguay, in an attempt to undermine progress on measures that encourage governments to ban flavorings that make tobacco products more attractive to kids. Governments stood strong at the last round of negotiations and passed those guidelines, and they should stand strong again against ITGA’s futile attempts to distract from the real issue at hand: Governments have the right to protect the health of their people from tobacco’s highly addictive and deadly effects.

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