Tobacco Free Initiative (TFI)

World No Tobacco Day 2004: rationale

The Tobacco Free Initiative proposes that World No Tobacco Day 2004 focus on tobacco and poverty. The rationale for this focus is explained in the following lines.


In May 2003, the World Health Organization (WHO) took a historic step. Completing five years of work that brought together scientific certainty and political will around a set of global rules for tobacco sales, promotion and consumption, the Organization's 192 Member States unanimously adopted the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). In adopting and signing the treaty, WHO’s Member States have expressed their firm commitment to tackle the public health challenges posed by tobacco and have resolved to address such key issues as price and tax measures, tobacco and poverty related issues, cross-border smuggling, tobacco advertising and promotion, and people’s right to clean indoor air. Indeed, this is not the first time that law has come to secure a public health gain. In its narrative, the logic of the FCTC underscores several studies and research findings that show that tobacco cultivation and consumption increases poverty, depletes national resources and causes five million preventable deaths each year. This gains special significance for the next phase of the FCTC as countries prepare for signature, ratification and implementation of the treaty. The role of the tobacco industry in slowing down this process is a key input for Member States.

Tobacco and poverty

Developing countries will face the brunt of the tobacco epidemic. Although tobacco use has declined in many high-income countries in recent decades, there have been sharp increases in tobacco use, especially among men, in low and middle-income countries in recent years. Close to 60% of the 5.700 billion cigarettes smoked each year and 75% of tobacco users are in developing countries. This in itself justifies investments in comprehensive tobacco control programmes. It is, however, important to note that tobacco use and its associated burden of disease, tends to follow a gradient. In other words, poorer individuals tend to use tobacco products more than their wealthier counterparts. Similar patterns exist with respect to education and socioeconomic status.

The contribution of tobacco to death and disease is well documented. Less attention is given to the ways in which tobacco increases poverty. This is the damage that is done when scarce family resources are spent on tobacco products instead of food and other essential needs such as schooling and nutrition. The money that poor households spend on tobacco products (between 4 to 5 % of all their disposable income) has very high opportunity costs, diverting scarce resources away from food and other basic needs. For example, in China, individuals with no schooling were 6.9 times more likely to smoke than individuals with a college degree while uneducated adults in Brazil were five times more likely to smoke than adults who had received at least a second degree.

The proportion of household expenditures used to purchase tobacco products is often very high in developing countries. For example, if two-thirds of the money spent on cigarettes in Bangladesh were spent on food instead, it could save more than 10 million people from malnutrition. New research in India found that tobacco use is associated with worse nutrition and child health outcomes. In Bulgaria, low-income households with at least one smoker spent 10.4% of their total income on tobacco products in 1995. In China, smokers surveyed in the Minhang district reported spending 17% of their household income on cigarettes. Along with countries, development agencies, donors and multilateral agencies too are recognizing that tobacco use has implications for poverty that go far beyond the health implications. In a 1999 report, Curbing the Epidemic, Governments and the Economics of Tobacco Control, the World Bank explored the economic dimensions that must be addressed as nations embark on the road to comprehensive tobacco control. That report systematically and scientifically demolished doomsday scenarios of economic loss that have deterred policy-makers from taking action. Policies that reduce the demand for tobacco, such as a decision to increase tobacco taxes, would not cause long-term job losses in the vast majority of countries, nor would higher tobacco taxes reduce tax revenues; rather, revenues would climb in the medium term. Such policies could, in sum, bring health benefits without harming economies.

Tobacco growing harms the environment. It leads to the degradation of the environment caused by the tobacco plant leaching nutrients from the soil, pollution from pesticides and fertilizers and deforestation as a result of the fire curing of some common varieties of tobacco. A recent study that assessed the amount of forest and woodland consumed annually for curing tobacco concluded that nearly 5% of overall deforestation in respective growing countries was due to tobacco cultivation. Child labour is another critical issue. In the late 1990’s, UNICEF concluded that use of children in tobacco production was widespread in many tobacco-producing countries.

World No Tobacco Day 2004 will bring out the poverty-causing, poverty-sustaining and exploitative labour practices.

Tobacco industry misrepresents facts – aims to thwart FCTC’s reach

In August 2000, a WHO Expert Committee concluded that tobacco industry's activities against the World Health Organization would be intensified as the guiding principles and treaty obligations of the WHO FCTC gain acceptance and legitimacy worldwide. In recognition of this reality, WHO Member States unanimously adopted the resolution WHA 54.18 calling on transparency in tobacco control. Understanding the tobacco industry's practices is crucial for the success of tobacco control policies.

In recent months, many campaigns have been launched to show that the tobacco industry adheres to the principles of corporate social responsibility and the development dimensions associated with such a responsibility. In addition to marketing a product that kills every second regular user, tobacco companies are also marketing themselves as good global corporate citizens who create jobs, help farmers and fuel economies. Tobacco companies claim their range of responsible activities reduce social inequity and they are doing this by creating or improving health care or educational facilities, providing vocational and management training, enhancing the quality of leisure and cultural activities.

Well-planned and well-managed philanthropy, from sponsoring music, film and art festivals to creating education programmes for the disadvantaged to protecting the environment, in the name of corporate social responsibility (CSR) has become a necessary element of tobacco company in their business plans. Major companies have developed programmes for small business development in Kenya, crime prevention in South Africa, business education in China, folk culture preservation in Venezuela, and medical treatment and flood relief in Pakistan. The tobacco industry is also involved in community-level development projects in Kenya, Malawi and Brazil, to name but a few countries. There is an inherent contradiction between principles of corporate citizenry and the tobacco industry.

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