Home Non- Communicable Diseases (NCDs) World No Tobacco Day: “We need food,not tobacco

World No Tobacco Day: “We need food, not tobacco”
By Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia.

The World No Tobacco Day is here again. Effective tobacco control involves tackling the demand and supply of tobacco as envisaged in the WHO Framework on Tobacco Control (FCTC). While the focus of tobacco control programs aims at reducing the demand of tobacco, the tobacco supply reduction strategies need to be balanced with the demand reduction for achieving overall reduction in tobacco use prevalence. 

The theme of this year’s World No Tobacco Day is “We need food, not tobacco”.

The campaign aims to raise awareness about alternative crop production and marketing opportunities for tobacco farmers and encourage them to grow sustainable, nutritious crops. It will also aim to expose the tobacco industry’s efforts to interfere with attempts to substitute tobacco growing with sustainable crops, thereby contributing to the global food crisis. 

Tobacco cultivation contributes to increased food insecurity worldwide. Across the globe around 3.5 million hectares of land are converted for tobacco growing each year. In South-east Asia Region, India leads in acres of land under cultivation and production of tobacco, followed by Indonesia. Tobacco is also grown in Bangladesh, DPR Korea, Thailand, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka. 

The tobacco industry often touts itself as an advocate for the livelihood of tobacco farmers. In the Region, the tobacco growers and workers are often used by the industry, as front groups to rally against tobacco control. This is a far cry from the truth. Instead, the intensive handling of insecticides and toxic chemicals during the cultivation of tobacco contributes to many farmers and their families suffering from ill health. It is time that the governments and policy makers across the Region hold the tobacco industry accountable for the health, environmental and economic costs of tobacco cultivation and use, including the deepening food crisis. 

The WHO FCTC offers specific principles and policy options on the promotion of economically viable alternatives for tobacco workers, growers, and individual sellers under Article 17, and on enhancing protection of the environment and the health of people under Article 18 of the Convention. 

I am happy to share that we have success stories from Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka, where tobacco growing farmers have successfully shifted over to economically viable alternative crops. Sri Lanka is leading the way by successfully implementing pilots to promote alternative crops replacing tobacco growing with encouraging results. 

On this World No Tobacco Day, I call upon all partners to work collectively to support governments of tobacco growing countries to develop and implement suitable policies and strategies for tobacco farmers to shift to growing food crops that would provide them and their families with a better life culminating in supporting national economies and ensuring food security. I also take this opportunity to assure continued support from WHO to Member States in supporting endeavours to assist tobacco farmers shifting away from growing tobacco and adopt healthier choices including food crops.


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