(from Folha de S. Paulo)
Delegates of the ministries of health to the UNO event on tobacco control ignore the reality. Their intention is to harm the growers, consumers and South Brazil
The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), created in 1999, was the first international treaty promoted by the World Health Organization (WHO), an agency of the United Nations Organization, which considered tobacco a major threat to health around the world, more serious than AIDS, malaria or cholera.
After so many years, we are now coming to grips with two very worrying facts: first, during all that time and in spite of the tens of million dollars spent by the working groups, the WHO did not produce a single study that attests to the viability of a crop able to replace tobacco in a producing region or country.
Second, although the objective of the FCTC was to reduce the consumption and exposure to cigarette smoke, the themes to be debated and voted at the Conference of the Parties (COP 5) of the FCTC, from 12 to 17 November, in Seoul, South Korea, are directly related to the production of tobacco.
The ideas launched by some member countries of the working groups in early 2012 demonstrated the danger of leaving the proposal and debate on these measures in the hands of delegates of the ministries of health, who ignore the reality of tobacco farming at global level.
Only a total lack of knowledge would explain the suggestion of such measures as the ban on technical support and contracts between growers and purchasing companies, the ban on bank loans and any other government support to tobacco farmers, the disruption of organisms that link the farmers with the governments and the reduction, by decree, of the planted area.
All this is proposed without presenting any alternative to the growers, who would be forced out of their business.
By the way, Brazil exports 85% of its entire production, but even so came forward with a measure intended to restrict the production of tobacco. Launched in June, by the Central Bank, the resolution was challenged by ministers and also on account of its complete unfeasibility in the rural area. The decision was revoked.
Leading global leaf exporter since 1993 and second largest producer, such measures wreaked havoc in the South, where 96% of tobacco is produced in Brazil. And even more unfortunately, without having any positive effect on the health of smokers, which would continue resorting to contraband products or produced in competitor countries that did not bother to sign the FCTC treaty, which is the case of the United States, neighboring Argentina, African countries like Zimbabwe and Malawi, and Indonesia, in Asia.
If the WHO itself foresees the continuity of smoking over the coming decades, the above countries would be happy to take over Brazil’s position as suppliers. In Brazil, tobacco employs upwards of 2.5 million people and generates more than R$ 10 billion to the public coffers.
Strangely enough, the FCTC has so far refused the participation of any organization that is a member of the International Tobacco Growers’ Association (ITGA), representing upwards of 30 million tobacco farmers spread across 20 countries in four continents.
No one knows better the possible alternatives and their viability than the tobacco farmers themselves, who have been pursuing alternatives for decades.
The obstinate refusal of the FCTC leaves the farmers no other chance than fighting against the measures that are likely to ruin their lives and their families. In Brazil, things are not different: ideology is making the government blind and could lead to poverty thousands of farmers who do not plant tobacco for fun: they are earning their livelihood and dignity at every tobacco season. In 2012, this crop generated R$ 4.6 in revenue for the farmers.
ANTONIO ABRUNHOSA, 60, is the chief-executive director of the International Tobacco Growers’ Association (ITGA)