WHO urges governments to stop subsidizing life-threatening tobacco crops

On World No Tobacco Day, WHO urges governments to stop subsidizing tobacco farming and support more sustainable crops that could feed millions.

“Tobacco is responsible for 8 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.”

More than 300 million people globally are faced with acute food insecurity. Meanwhile more than 3 million hectares of land across more than 120 countries are being used to grow deadly tobacco, even in countries where people are starving.

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.

Tobacco farming causes diseases to the farmers themselves and more than 1 million child laborers 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. The focus has so far been in Asia and South America, but the latest data show tobacco companies are expanding to Africa. Since 2005, there has been a nearly 20% increase in tobacco farming land across Africa.

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.

Every year World No Tobacco Day honours those making a difference in tobacco control. This year one of the Awardees, Ms Sprina Robi Chacha, a female farmer from Kenya, is being recognized for not only switching from growing tobacco to high protein beans, but also training hundreds of other farmers on how to do this to create a healthier community.

182 Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control have committed to “…promote economically viable alternatives for tobacco workers and growers”. A crucial way that countries can fulfill this obligation is by ending subsidies for tobacco growing and supporting healthier crops.

By choosing to grow food instead of tobacco, we prioritize health, preserve ecosystems, and increase food security.


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