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“Be the change, stand tall against tobacco!”

The World Health Organisation (WHO) and public health representatives around the world celebrate World No Tobacco Day (WNTD). This year’s theme is “We need food, not tobacco”.

By celebrating World No Tobacco Day today, we can work together to promote a tobacco-free world, protect public health and support people on their journey to quit tobacco. So, can we “Be the change, stand up against tobacco!”

Today, tobacco cultivation and production exacerbate food insecurity. The campaign for 2023 places emphasis on the need to increase awareness about alternative crop production among farmers and encourage them to grow sustainable, nutritious crops. Are the governments globally really serious about their attempts to substitute tobacco farming with sustainable crops, thereby contributing to the global food crisis? Or it is that increasing revenues from the tobacco industry with increased consumption and marketing support governments.

Tobacco Kills printed on tobacco products packaging is right. It kills due to the increasing uncertainty of nutritional crops as tobacco growing and production exacerbate food insecurity.

Globally, conflicts and wars, climatic shocks, and the economic and social impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have further worsened the food crisis, and tobacco growing further adds to the woes of food scarcity.
Some facts: As per the WHO, about 3.5 million hectares of land are converted every year for tobacco cultivation. Secondly, tobacco growing affects the soil, leading to deforestation of 200 000 hectares a year. Worsening this further is the extensive usage of pesticides and fertilisers to grow tobacco, leading to soil degradation and desertification. And, with soil fertility almost depleted with the cultivation of tobacco, the land is of no use for other crops, doubling up the food insecurity.

The profits made from tobacco and its marketing are immense, but at the expense of the damage done to sustainable food production. Developing countries, high population density countries and low and middle income countries are the ones who suffer and must act quickly before it is too late. Countries where tobacco is grown often face negative economic consequences due to the negative health, environmental and social impacts of tobacco cultivation. So WHO together with governments should take immediate action to reduce global tobacco use and reclaim land for food crops.

With UNSDG Goal 2 ‘Zero Hunger”, this goal can truly be achieved, as the cultivating nations worldwide are the underdeveloped or developing countries, which are low-income regions. This year’s WNTD campaign “We need food, not tobacco” highlights the urgent need to strengthen legislation, develop appropriate policies and strategies, and create market conditions for tobacco farmers to switch to growing food crops that would provide them and their families with an alternative means of cultivation for a better life.

The UN has already highlighted the urgent need to pay immediate attention to the deteriorating food situation in vulnerable regions and to take action to alleviate the impact of acute food insecurity and prevent a humanitarian disaster. A record 349 million people in 79 countries are affected by acute food insecurity, many of them in low- and middle-income countries.

Suresh Rathod


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