Thursday, 19 July 2012

Does the World Health Organization want to kill tobacco growing in Africa?

Antonio Abrunhosa thinks so. He is the CEO of this organisation (International Tobacco Growers' Association) and you can see him in action here:

The Lagos writer of this piece, Torin Orugun, takes issue with the idea that WHO is out to destroy the tobacco industry. He cannot find any direct evidence that tobacco control expects tobacco not to be grown in Africa.

The motions on these topics are lengthy and involved and I haven't looked through them either to find evidence that WHO wants to kill off the tobacco industry in Africa. However the writer has accepted the view that tobacco kills, and that Articles 17 and 18, which concern the development of alternatives to tobacco growing, take into account the impossibility of  rushing this process. He quotes a local Framework Convention Alliance member who accuses the ITGA of being a tobacco front group (the ITGA, representing  several million farmers across the globe, has three staff including its chief executive. If it is funded by the tobacco industry it is not funded well), which wants to undermine the credibility of the World Health Organisation's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, using the farmers as a vehicle.

The case of the ITGA is that the people working on developing alternatives to tobacco in developing countries do not know about tobacco, and far from wanting to understand the experience of tobacco farmers, they actually exclude them from their discussions. Even government representatives from departments other than health are not really welcome. The delegations then hear criticisms of the contributions of the tobacco industry, including its participation in debt bondage and child labour (see link to Articles 17 and 18 above). This is disingenuous as it is a feature of poverty and characterises other industries as well. This website on child labour mentions tobacco only as one of many forms of child labour: there is no guarantee any form of agriculture replacing tobacco would be able to eradicate it. See also video at the foot of this piece.

Orogun mentions the mechanism by which all parties to the Convention must work by consensus before motions are adopted, denies that there is any plan to ditch tobacco farming and quotes people who criticise ITGA for their lack of positive comment on the positive health impact of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. He seems to conclude that representation within the World Health Organisation is fair and effective, and that it is beyond reproach on the basis of its stated aims.

Much as I agree that it is not healthy for a single industry to control agriculture in any country, as tobacco is held to do in Malawi, it is also bad that an international body that is accountable only to its members (delegates who have limited personal experience in tobacco cultivation) should control policy in member countries of the FCTC in a way that denies participatory rights to those involved in the tobacco industry. If tobacco is too dominant, this is not a problem that should be resolved by people outside the country with a clear agenda to reduce tobacco consumption. The conflict of interest is overwhelming. The balance of a country's economic and social needs should be tackled from within.

5 minutes 30 seconds in, report of an Argentinian tobacco project that has led the way locally in eliminating child labour. Source

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