Tobacco Producers Protest Against WHO’s Control Measures

Tobacco Producers Protest Against WHO’s Control Measures

Karachi, February 7, 2024 – A wave of protests has swept across tobacco-producing nations as premium tobacco producers and workers from Colombia, Panama, Honduras, and Nicaragua gathered in front of the Panama Convention Centre to express their discontent with the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) recent decisions on tobacco control.

The tenth Conference of the Parties (COP) of the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) served as the backdrop for their outcry.

The FCTC, designed to protect present and future generations from the detrimental effects of tobacco consumption, has faced opposition from tobacco growers who believe the measures infringe upon their livelihoods. Article 17 of the Convention, aimed at promoting economically viable alternatives to tobacco, has been a point of contention for the protesting farmers who accuse the WHO of a lack of transparency and exclusion in decision-making.

The protesters, representing a tradition that spans more than 500 years, are demanding respect for their cultural heritage tied to premium cigar production. They argue that the economic and cultural impact extends beyond the production process and is an integral part of family and community values, as well as their legacy.

In Pakistan, where tobacco cultivation has long been a pillar of the economy, growers express similar concerns. Fawad Khan, Spokesperson for Mustehkam Pakistan, an advocacy platform for marginalized communities, warns of potential economic suicide for Pakistan if FCTC measures are implemented without considering viable economic alternatives. The tobacco sector in Pakistan contributes over $1 billion in taxes, crucial for the government’s financial stability.

The 2023 WHO’s World No Tobacco Day Theme, “Grow Food, Not Tobacco,” underlines the global recognition of the need to shift away from tobacco farming. However, critics argue that diversification projects are often limited in scope due to structural barriers and call for a more inclusive dialogue to find sustainable solutions.

Mushfiq Khan, Head of the All Pakistan Tobacco Farmer Association, highlights the potential consequences of reducing the demand and supply of tobacco. He contends that such measures could lead to a loss in national revenue and force tobacco farmers into criminal activities to make ends meet. With Pakistan already grappling with high corruption and crime indices, the protests emphasize the urgency of addressing the concerns of tobacco growers.

Tobacco producers worldwide are united in their call for inclusion in discussions that shape their future. They argue that decisions affecting their livelihoods should not be made without their input and are urging for a collaborative approach that considers the economic and cultural significance of tobacco production.

As the debate unfolds at the COP meeting, the global community watches closely, hoping for a balanced and sustainable solution that addresses public health concerns without jeopardizing the livelihoods of millions of families dependent on tobacco cultivation.

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