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October 15, 2014

Tobacco – The Killer Crop: Unveiled at COP6 Encourages Governments to Support Farmers to Switch crop

Note: World Lung Foundation united with The Union North America. From January 2016, the combined organization is known as “Vital Strategies.”

(Moscow, Russia; Geneva, Switzerland and New York, USA) – – At the Conference of the Parties (COP6) to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), World Lung Foundation (WLF) and World Health Organization South-East Asia Region (WHO-SEARO) have unveiled a new film that graphically shows the terrible price of tobacco cultivation and demonstrates the benefits of farmers switching to alternative crops. Governments are obliged to support farmers to find economically viable alternatives to tobacco under Article 17 and to protect the environment and people from the harms of tobacco under Article 18 the WHO FCTC.

Key stakeholders from tobacco-cultivating countries are attending COP6 and the 5 minute film– TobaccoThe Killer Crop – was screened today at a discussion on “Alternative Livelihoods”. WHO- SEARO and WLF believe that the film will help combat tobacco industry misinformation about the economic benefits of tobacco cultivation and encourage governments to help farmers switch to more beneficial and financially stable food crops.

Using the testimony of current and former tobacco farmers and their families across three countries in Asia – Bangladesh, India and Indonesia – Tobacco – The Killer Crop explains how tobacco cultivation in low and middle income countries leaves many farmers impoverished and shows the illnesses suffered by farmers and farm workers as they cultivate and harvest their toxic crop. Viewers hear how some tobacco farmers don’t make enough money to educate their children. Farmers who have switched to food crops explain that they are able to harvest food produce and sell it at market the next day, guaranteeing immediate income, instead of being at the mercy of tobacco agents who can decide to cut the price they are paid without any notice, creating financial insecurity.

In addition, the film details the substantial environmental damage caused by tobacco crops. Tobacco ranks among the 10 crops with the highest fertilization rates, generates significant use of pesticides, causes soil, water and air pollution and the depletion of soil nutrients. More than 200,000 hectares of forest are removed by tobacco farming each year, mainly in developing countries. This has caused critical environmental situations in 35 countries estimated to have medium to serious degrees of tobacco-related deforestation.

Sandra Mullin, Senior Vice President, Policy and Communications, World Lung Foundation said: “The environmental, health and economic burden of tobacco cultivation is neither sustainable, nor desirable. Research has proven that tobacco cultivation has a devastating effect on the livelihoods and health of farmers and farm workers, needlessly trapping families and communities in poverty. Tobacco cultivation also is a real risk to food security. The Tobacco Atlas notes that undernourishment rates in 6 of the top 10 tobacco- producing countries were between 5% and 27% in 2009 and there are countless examples of tobacco displacing vital food crops in fertile areas. We urge governments to view this film, to realise that alternative livelihoods offer a real opportunity to produce more food and create healthier, wealthier citizens and to put strategies in place to achieve that goal.”

Tobacco – Killer Crop – was developed by WLF in partnership with WHO-SEARO. It was filmed in Indonesia, Bangladesh and India and includes interviews with farmers and government representatives, along with key facts about tobacco cultivation. Financial support for the project was provided by WHO-SEARO. The film will be available on Youtube and through WHO-SEARO and WLF.

The tobacco industry and tobacco cultivation

In 2011, tobacco growers and workers produced nearly seven and a half million tonnes of raw tobacco on a total of 4.2 million hectares in about 120 countries. Exploitative buying practices and unfair contracts promoted by cigarette makers and leaf buying companies trap famers in cycles of poverty, push farmers into debt, and create conditions that promote child labour. Studies show that contract farming – where tobacco companies increase their profits by directly engaging with tobacco farmers – creates a cycle of indebtedness where farmers find themselves owing tobacco companies significant sums for payments advanced as agricultural inputs year after year. Farmers earn very little for their crop; one tonne of raw tobacco produced by a farmer and sold to the “first processor” increases in value by 47.2 times along the production chain before the smoker buys cigarettes. The tobacco industry actively interferes in government policy to promote tobacco cultivation. In August 2010, the US Securities and Exchange Commission alleged that Universal Corporation and Alliance One International, companies that purchase leaf from developing countries for Philip Morris and BAT, paid more than $5 million in bribes to government authorities in Malawi, Mozambique, China, Greece, Indonesia and Kyrgyzstan.

In the major tobacco growing countries, over 1.3 million children work on tobacco farms – damaging their health and their education – to generate greater profits for leaf companies and cigarette manufacturers. On humid days the average field worker may be exposed to as much as 54 mg of dissolved nicotine — equivalent to more than 50 cigarettes. Illnesses related to tobacco cultivation including green tobacco sickness (caused by absorption of nicotine through the skin), pesticide intoxication, respiratory and dermatological disorders and cancers.

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