More than half a century after scientists uncovered the link between smoking and cancer, triggering a war between health campaigners and the cigarette industry, big tobacco companies in developing countries are still thriving in the trade.
Despite the known effects on the health of smokers, and child labour in tobacco farms, profits from these tobacco companies continue to soar just as sale of cigarettes have increased from five billion sticks a year in the 1990s to 6.9 billion a year in 2010. As if this was not enough, more people now die annually as a result of tobacco use than alcohol, Aids, car accidents, illegal drugs, murders and suicides combined.
On Saturday May 31, 2014, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and its partners will mark ‘World No Tobacco Day’, to highlight the health risks associated with tobacco use, calling for effective policies to reduce child labour in tobacco farms. This is estimated to have killed nearly six million people each year, of which more than 10 per cent are non-smokers dying from breathing second-hand smoke.
This year’s World No Tobacco Day seeks to persuade more countries to sign a global treaty drawn up by the WHO to ensure strict regulations against child labour in tobacco farming as well as public health protection from smoking by calling on countries to raise taxes on tobacco.
Although 172 countries have signed up to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control since it was produced over six years ago, 20 per cent of them have still done nothing at all to implement its recommendations, and major countries, including the US and Indonesia, are still not even signatories.
While the campaign for this year insists that unless we act, the epidemic will kill more than eight million people every year by 2030, the increasing excise taxes on tobacco manufacturing is considered to be the most cost-effective tobacco control measure.
The World Health Report 2010 also indicated that a 50 per cent increase in tobacco excise taxes would generate a little more than $1.4 billion in additional funds in 22 low-income countries, which if allocated to health, government health spending in developing countries could increase by up to 50 per cent.
An investigation by Daily Independent reveals that tobacco companies in Nigeria, for example, have taken advantage of lax marketing rules by aggressively promoting child labour in Oke-Ogun area, Silver Palace Motel, Iseyin, and Igboho Community, both in Oyo State. In both communities, tobacco is grown in commercial quantity, even as big investors in the industry use lawyers, lobby groups and carefully selected statistics to bully government whenever there is an attempt to quash the industry.
In 2010 for instance, the profit margin of the big four tobacco companies: Philip Morris International, British American Tobacco (BAT), Japan Tobacco and Imperial Tobacco increased to £27 billion profit from £26 billion in 2009.
In striving for greater profits measured in human lives, the big tobacco firms have pushed the average price of cigarettes up in rich countries such as Britain, where 20 cigarettes now cost more than £6 a pack ,while hammering down the price paid to tobacco growers in poorer countries such as Malawi and India.
Meanwhile in Nigeria, where tobacco farming is yet to be effectively controlled, the knock-on effect of these on farms is near-slave wages for workers and a temptation to excel in using cheap child labour to thrive in their businesses.
Article prepared by Marc Rosenberg