Smoke out lies about green gold

Good people, tobacco kills and 181 countries have joined the dialogue to butt out the smoky killer.

This global push reduces the world market for the cash crop politicians promote as green gold.

You may have grown up hearing that there is no substitute for tobacco and cigarette manufacturers got away with horrendous half-truths like kusuta kukhoza kuononga moyo (smoking  may be hazardous to health).

Science shows the harms of tobacco are not a matter of maybes and ifs. Tobacco kills and seriously hurts your health, whether you smoke or not.

The tobacco atlas Vital Strategies and American Cancer Society unveiled at the World Conference on Tobacco or Health last week in South Africa show tobacco-caused diseases kill about 7.1 million people globally and 5 700 in this tobacco-growing country of ours.

Astonishingly, one in eight of these deaths are associated with second-hand smoke, the fumes non-smokers inhale in pubs, restaurants, workplaces and other public places where they work and hang out.

The nicotinic leaf is the poison that kills Malawians slowly as government dilly-dallies to ratify the World Health Organisation (WHO) Framework for  Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) which tobacco barons alternatively call an attack on the deadly green gold.

Out of the 181 signatories, Malawi is among just four WHO-affiliated African countries that have not signed up.

The most recent CFTC party in southern African is actually neighbouring Mozambique.

Government’s reluctance excludes Malawi from the table where conversations of nations are underway on how to reduce overdependence on tobacco and create a smoke-free generation.

The FCTC parties have hit the road running, exploring ways of protecting their citizens from preventable ills of tobacco and unregulated smoking in public spaces at a time for-profit companies want the youth and non-smokers to believe smoking is cool.

The rise of the anti-tobacco lobby clear in the surge of countries adopting stern laws that require manufacturers to pack cigarettes in plain boxes or packages labelled with graphic images of darkened lungs to proclaim the fatal implications of smoking.

The UK, the home of British American Tobacco which introduced cigarettes in Malawi, now obliges retailers to hide tobacco products behind shutters where young people cannot see it or get lured.

But as smoke-free zones and tobacco controls remain almost nonexistent, Malawians are not only being exposed to second-hand smoke.

They are being exposed to covet tactics of promoting tobacco products as ‘the cool thing’ they are not.

Think beyond the flavouring of cigarettes with menthol and other aromas easing the deadening fact that no sweetener makes it less deadly.

Here, barons use much-loved sports and entertainment personalities to promote tobacco.

Institutions with clandestine agendas regularly use celebrities as trusted accessories of their propaganda machine.

The role of celebrities in promoting hazardous commodities was long under scrutiny before the 3D film Avartar received a strange rating—a dark lung—in  2010.

Then, a scene in which an actor smokes provoked a backlash from activists against pro-tobacco forces’ strategy of sponsoring celebrities to promote tobacco in public entertainment products accessed by minors and the youth.

Not all artists are moralists to sidestep scenes deemed unpalatable to some quarters.

Some are realists just using their creativity to mirror everyday realities in this smoke-laden world of ours as they happen.

But the tobacco industry will stop at nothing to maximise their profits as the mounting counterforce in Asia, Europe and America is pushing them to weak African nations without smoke-free laws to swell their market and recruit a next generation of smokers.

Instead of being used as human weapons in the hands of merchants of death, artists must help smoke out lies about tobacco and save lives as government grapples to finance its hugely donor-dependent healthcare system. n

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