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No Tobacco Day: WHO advocates levies, says crop threat to environment

The World Health Organization has called on African governments to impose a general tax on tobacco on all price chains, including manufacturing, processing, distribution, marketing, consumption and waste management.

The Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, made the call on Monday in a message to commemorate the 2022 World No Tobacco Day which is celebrated on May 31 every year.

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Moeti said the day was to raise awareness about the negative effects of health, social, economic, and environmental on tobacco production and consumption.

He said the annual motto, “Tobacco: A Threat in Our Environment”, aims to highlight the natural impact of the entire tobacco cycle, from cultivation, production and distribution, to the toxic waste it creates.

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Moeti advised countries to speed up the implementation of the WHO Tobacco Control Framework Convention, which provides the necessary guidance to improve the construction of smokeless areas.

According to him, the framework will create programs to support tobacco users to quit and support the use of property taxes and other financial measures.

Moeti said that despite the 24 African countries setting bans on smoking in public places, and 35 banning advertising, promotion and sponsorship of tobacco, our estimates are that 1 in 10 young Africans use tobacco.

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He noted that the emergence of new products, such as electronic nicotine and tobacco products, is also appealing to young people, adding to their anxiety.

“With 44 of the 47 WHO countries in the African Region ratifying the WHO FCTC, this obliges them to take effective and evidence-based measures to prevent tobacco use.

“The need to address the associated environmental damage has seen the WHO repeat its efforts to combat the full threat,” Moeti said.

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He said the impact of tobacco cultivation on the environment included high water use, which is a rare resource across the continent, as well as deforestation and air and water pollution.

According to him, tobacco-growing land can be used effectively, especially in countries with food shortages.

“To help combat the threat, WHO has partnered with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the Kenyan government to develop a tobacco-free farm project.

“The program, launched in March, subsidizes farms that switch from tobacco to other crops that will benefit their communities, rather than harm their health.

“UN agencies and the Kenyan government provide training, inputs such as seeds and fertilizers, and a market for their crop through the World Food Program’s local procurement programs,” Moeti said.

He said so far, 330 Kenyan farmers had switched to growing beans, with the first crop producing more than 200 metric tons.

“The second season has just reached more than 1000 farmers.

“This is very encouraging for our plans to launch the program in other tobacco-growing countries on the continent as well,” Moeti said.

According to him, this is the kind of strong evidence that is important in changing the minds of farmers, as well as governments, who believe that tobacco is a cash crop that has the potential to grow the economy.

He said in Malawi, for example, tobacco makes up almost half of all exports.

Zimbabwe’s comparative figure is 13 percent and 6 percent and 3 percent in Mozambique and Tanzania respectively.

“The most unfortunate thing is that these are unfortunately temporary benefits obscured by the long-term effects of increased food insecurity.”

“Tobacco-related diseases in the African Region account for 3.5% of annual health costs.

“Although tobacco production is declining worldwide, it is growing in the WHO Province of Africa, which now produces about 12 percent of all tobacco leaves worldwide.”

He said tobacco planting has a huge impact on deforestation, due to the large amount of wood needed for logging.

He said growing tobacco exposes farmers to many health risks, including “green tobacco disease”, which is caused by nicotine being absorbed into the skin while handling watery tobacco leaves.

“Cigarette butts dump roads, parks and beaches into the water and release harmful chemicals that poison animals and aquatic life and children,” he said.

According to him, reducing tobacco use is an important key to achieving Sustainable Development Goals but, as environmental evidence shows, the benefits go far beyond health, ” he said.

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