The Vision for Alternative Development (VALD), has joined public health groups in Africa and the world over to call on the tobacco industry to end its exploitation of tobacco farmers.
The VALD, a non-governmental organisation tobacco-free advocate in Ghana has also appealed to government to provide support to farmers who want to transit away from raising tobacco.
?Transitioning out of tobacco will not only ensure a better future for tobacco farmers, but will also contribute greatly to public health in Ghana and the world over.?
The call was made in a release copied to Ghana News Agency by Mr Labram Musah, Programme Director of VALD.
The VALD said public health groups have noted that the tobacco industry has again launched a misinformation campaign through front groups like the International Tobacco Growers Association (ITGA) ahead of a meeting of the world?s governments to discuss agreed measures to tackle the deadly global tobacco epidemic.
?ITGA?s main supporters are international cigarette and tobacco leaf companies, including Alliance One International, British American Tobacco (major importer of cigarette in Ghana), Imperial Tobacco International, Japan Tobacco International, Philip Morris International and Universal Leaf.?
The ITGA acts as a ?front group? for the tobacco industry ? it is funded and directed by the tobacco companies to influence policy makers and block lifesaving tobacco control measures, the VALD said.
It stated that historically, the tobacco industry has exploited farmers in Malawi, Tanzania, Nigeria, Zambia, Uganda, Zimbabwe among others and around the world by encouraging them to cultivate tobacco leaves and then intentionally keeping prices too low to be profitable.
?These low prices undermine farmer?s bargaining power, causing them to fall into a cycle of debt that perpetuates poverty.?
The VALD said around the world, the tobacco industry has engaged in sophisticated campaigns designed to shift attention away from its role in keeping tobacco prices low.
?Campaigns have exaggerated the impact of proven tobacco control policies on tobacco farmers, and have misrepresented the goals of these policies, which are designed to protect public health and help address the six million deaths caused each year by tobacco use,? the NGO said.
The VALD said global youth tobacco survey conducted among junior high schools in 2009 in Ghana showed that 12.8 per cent of students from 13 to 15 years currently use any tobacco products which represented males 14.1 per cent and females 10.6 per cent.
Those who do not die from tobacco-related disease can suffer from several debilitating diseases, including cancer, heart and lung disease. Additionally, tobacco cultivation undermines the health and wellness of farmers, who experience illness from exposure to pesticides and nicotine.
Tobacco farmers? cumulative seasonal exposure to nicotine absorbed through the skin is equivalent to smoking at least 180 cigarettes.
?Though the tobacco industry claims to have the best interest tobacco farmers in mind, the reality is that the tobacco industry values only its own profits ? often at the expense of tobacco farmers,? said Mr Labram Musah.
Stressing that tobacco farmers often live in extreme poverty, although in Ghana they produce in an informal and on small scale for local consumption, bound to the potentially deadly life of tobacco farming, without viable alternative.
?It?s time for the tobacco industry to end this exploitation of our tobacco farmers and for the government to support the transition of our tobacco farmers to alternative and sustainable livelihoods,? he added.
The VALD said the call from public health groups comes ahead of the international Conference of the Parties (COP) in Moscow, Russia, where parties to the World Health Organisation?s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) will meet to discuss further implementation of the treaty.
The WHO FCTC is the world?s only international public health treaty, and has 178 parties, representing almost 90 per cent of the world?s population. It obligates countries to implement proven methods to reduce tobacco use, including smoke-free public places, large pictorial warning labels on tobacco products, increased tobacco taxes and bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship.
In addition to these life-saving measures, the treaty calls on countries to work with tobacco farmers to find suitable alternative livelihoods and help them transition from exploitation tobacco farming.
The VALD said without urgent action to curb the tobacco epidemic, including measures to protect and transition tobacco farmers, tobacco use will kill one billion people around the world this century.