SA minister cautions Malawi on Tobacco

South Africa’s minister of health Aaron Matsoaledi Malawi needs to stop taking pride in Tobacco being a green gold as it is poisonous.

Motsoaledi was speaking during the opening press conference of the 17th World Conference on Tobacco or Health at the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC) on Wednesday.

“There was a time the minister of health [I cannot remember his name] proudly told an international conference that Tobacco is Malawi’s green gold. Green gold that is deadly, its killing people. I wish Malawi was a signatory to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) just to help its people,” stated the minister.

The framework is an evidence-based treaty that reaffirms the right of all people to the highest standard of health, the first treaty negotiated under the auspices of the World Health Organisation (WHO).

According to WHO, it represents a paradigm shift in developing a regulatory strategy to address addictive substances; in contrast to previous drug control treaties, as it asserts the importance of demand reduction strategies as well as supply issues. The WHO FCTC was developed in response to the globalization of the tobacco epidemic.

In an interview, Motsoaledi, a medical doctor by profession, repeatedly branded Tobacco as poison and all efforts should be made to be scrapped off.

“The WHO in the FCTC made a pledge that it is prepared to help countries to alternative agriculture and they can do that in 10 years if they are willing. There is no point in keeping up to a sort of economy that kills people. We cannot then argue that the only way for human being s to live in any part of the world is to sell poison.

“Actually that proposals shows that the individual rural farmers do not gain anything in this whole thing. The people who gain are the big tobacco companies. If you go and check in Malawi, the farmers are poor. I still remember the Mail and Guardian here once published a young research whereby it was found that some of the children in Malawi as five years, have got more in their blood than 20 cigarettes because of the tobacco that gets in their skin when they are working in the farms,” he explained.

Tobacco contributes 75 percent towards Malawi’s agro based economy.

Meanwhile, the Tobacco Control Commission (TCC) has dispelled the assertions by the South African minister saying Tobacco benefits Malawi.

“Tobacco does not poison Malawians. Malawian produces tobacco sustainably and almost all of it is exported and smoked somewhere. Again, it’s not true that farmers don’t benefit but big companies. Tobacco is the only crop that farmers benefit most but of course profit margins vary with level of investments.

“The Convention is only against tobacco growing and smoking but without giving an alternative crop. In Malawi, the government and other stakeholders are working round the clock to find alternative but as of today no crop to replace Tobacco,” said David Luka, TCC deputy chief executive officer in an interview.

Luka added: “Farmers are aware of health hazards in Tobacco farming and take necessary precautions in growing with the help of TCC and other key stakeholders including government. Tobacco in Malawi is produced sustainably and the country would wish to stop growing Tobacco but in the absence of an alternative it’s not possible,” explained Luka.

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