As we celebrate World No Tobacco Day (WNTD) today on 31 May 2023, the focus is shifting towards an unusual, yet urgent theme – “We need food, not tobacco”.
The campaign aims to shed light on alternative crop production. Also, it raises awareness on how the tobacco industry contributes to the global food crisis. Currently, tobacco growing gobbles up around 3.5 million hectares of land annually, leading to deforestation and soil degradation. Moreover, tobacco cultivation has a higher propensity to desertification than other agricultural activities, stressing the need to encourage farmers towards sustainable, nutritious crop production.
The Double-edged Sword of Tobacco Cultivation
The tobacco industry often poses as a champion for tobacco farmers’ livelihoods, yet this couldn’t be further from the truth. Tobacco cultivation involves handling toxic chemicals, putting farmers and their families at risk of ill health. Furthermore, these farmers are trapped in unjust contractual arrangements, and often resort to child labour, violating human rights. Interestingly, nine of the ten largest tobacco cultivators are low- and middle-income countries, four of which are low-income food-deficit countries. This points towards a misallocation of resources, as land used for tobacco could help achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 2 – zero hunger.
Steering the Focus Towards Alternative Livelihoods
The 2023 WNTD campaign appeals to governments to establish policies and strategies for tobacco farmers to shift to growing food crops, promising a healthier lifestyle for them and their families. Enforcing the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control can help promote viable alternatives for tobacco workers and enhance the protection of the environment and public health.
The Medical Ramifications of Smoking
Smoking remains a major global health concern, known to cause a variety of illnesses including cardiovascular diseases and cancer. Inhaling tobacco smoke introduces over 7,000 toxic substances into the body, causing inflammation, impairing endothelial function, promoting thrombus formation, and lowering blood levels of good cholesterol. Smoking can lead to lung diseases, damage the reproductive system, cause oral health problems, and, most importantly, increase the risk of cancer. Despite the well-known health risks, smoking remains a stubborn habit for many, largely due to the addictive properties of nicotine.
The Smoking Menace in Asia
Asia, home to the majority of the world’s population, also bears a significant burden of the global tobacco crisis. The region is witnessing a sharp surge in smoking rates, with several countries being major contributors to the global number of smokers. The damage inflicted by smoking is vast and pervasive, affecting almost every organ system in the body. In particular, the rise in cardiovascular diseases, respiratory illnesses, and various forms of cancer is alarmingly high among Asian smokers. The high prevalence of smoking combined with an ageing population has set the stage for a health catastrophe. This situation underscores the urgent need for aggressive public health interventions to curb tobacco use. Additionally, it shows the necessity of strengthening support for farmers transitioning from tobacco to sustainable crop production.
The detrimental effects of tobacco emphasise the need for a significant push towards sustainable food crops and a healthier lifestyle. This is considered from both an agricultural perspective and on health. As we look towards World No Tobacco Day 2023, it’s clear that the battle against tobacco is far from over. By turning our attention towards these issues, we can hopefully make strides towards a healthier, more sustainable future.