WHO Appeals for End to Tobacco Growing Subsidies as FDA Warns E-Cigarette Retailers
Sprina Robu Chacha, a former tobacco farmer from Kenya

On World No Tobacco Day on Wednesday, the World Health Organization (WHO) appealed to governments to end tobacco growing subsidies and use the savings to support farmers to switch to “more sustainable crops that improve food security and nutrition”.

Over three million hectares of land in over 120 countries are being used to grow tobacco while over 300 million people globally are faced with acute food insecurity, according to the WHO.

“Tobacco is responsible for eight million deaths a year, yet governments across the world spend millions supporting tobacco farms,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “By choosing to grow food instead of tobacco, we prioritize health, preserve ecosystems, and strengthen food security for all.”

A new WHO report, “Grow food, not tobacco,” highlights the ills of tobacco growing and the benefits of switching to more sustainable food crops for farmers, communities, economies, the environment, and the world at large. 

The report also exposes the tobacco industry for trapping farmers in a vicious cycle of debt, propagating tobacco growing by exaggerating its economic benefits and lobbying through farming front groups.

Kenyan farmer Sprina Robi Chacha recalls how the WHO helped her to move from farming tobacco, as her parents had, to growing iron beans.

“Tobacco is a very delicate crop and it takes a lot of work,” said Chacha in a video produced by WHO. “It requires poisonous pesticide that the chemical companies supply in the form of a loan.”

Chacha said that her children had to stay out of school to assist to harvest the tobacco. In contrast, farming beans was not that labour-intensive, the beans replenished the soil and she was able to feed her family with the crop.

WHO, the Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Food Programme support the Tobacco Free Farms initiative that will provide help to more than 5000 farmers in Kenya and Zambia to grow sustainable food crops instead of tobacco

Harm to farmers

Tobacco farming causes diseases to the farmers themselves and more than one million child labourers are estimated to be working on tobacco farms, missing their opportunity for an education.

“Tobacco is not only a massive threat to food insecurity, but health overall, including the health of tobacco farmers. Farmers are exposed to chemical pesticides, tobacco smoke and as much nicotine as found in 50 cigarettes – leading to illnesses like chronic lung conditions and nicotine poisoning,” said Dr Ruediger Krech, Director of Health Promotion at WHO.

Tobacco growing is a global problem. While most of the tobacco farms are in Asia and South America, the latest data shows that, since 2005, there has been a nearly 20% increase in tobacco farming land across Africa.

FDA warns retailers

Meanwhile, the US Food and Drug Administration issued warning letters to 30 retailers, for illegally selling unauthorized tobacco products on Wednesday. 

“The unauthorized products were various types of Puff and Hyde brand disposable e-cigarettes, which were two of the most commonly reported brands used by youth e-cigarette users in 2022.,” according to the FDA.

“Protecting our nation’s youth from tobacco products – including disposable e-cigarettes – is a top priority for the FDA,” said FDA Commissioner Robert M. Califf, M.D. “We’re committed to holding all players in the supply chain – not just manufacturers but also retailers and distributors – accountable to the law.”

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