The World Health Organization is urging governments to stop subsidizing tobacco farming and support more sustainable crops that could feed millions.
“Tobacco is responsible for 8 million deaths a year, yet governments across the world spend millions supporting tobacco farms,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in a statement ahead of World No Tobacco Day on May 31.
“By choosing to grow food instead of tobacco, we prioritize health, preserve ecosystems and strengthen food security for all.”
According to the WHO, more than 300 million people globally are faced with acute food insecurity. Meanwhile more than 3 million hectares of land across more than 120 countries are being used to grow tobacco.
“Tobacco is not only a massive threat to food insecurity, but health overall, including the health of tobacco farmers. Farmers are exposed to chemical pesticides, tobacco smoke and as much nicotine as found in 50 cigarettes—leading to illnesses like chronic lung conditions and nicotine poisoning,” said Ruediger Krech, director of health promotion at the WHO.
In response to such criticisms, the International Tobacco Growers Association recently posted retorts to common misconceptions of the sector.
For example, in response to the frequently aired accusation that tobacco growing is bad for the environment, the ITGA points out that tobacco covers only 0.25 percent of the world’s cultivated land. In response to the claim that tobacco growing is bad for growers’ health, it points out that the only health risk unique to tobacco crops is green tobacco sickness—a condition that is easily avoided with proper attire and training.
The ITGA also addresses criticisms about farmer debt and child labor on its website.