The Tobacco Control Commission (TCC) has said it is concerned with Chile’s ban on smoking in public places, arguing it will affect Malawi.
Chile, a country with one of the highest smoking rates at 40 percent, last month became the 14th Latin American country to ban smoking in enclosed public spaces. This is done to protect the public from passive smoking and the associated health hazards.
In an interview on Tuesday, TCC chief executive officer Bruce Munthali said the ban will have a negative effective on Malawi.
“We are very concerned with the smoking ban in Chile, in Russia and other countries have also proposed similar bans. Tobacco farmers as any other person have a right to economic livelihood and these bans will certainly affect them. Anything that has a reduction in the demand for cigarettes has an effect on the demand for tobacco. Malawi is greatly affected when the ban affects burley tobacco because we grow a lot of it.
“We have been asking government to voice our concerns at the World Trade Organisation [WTO] and the World Health Organisation [WHO] because the smoking bans are technical barriers to trade,” said Munthali.
Chile has the highest smoking rates in the world. According to the Tobacco Atlas, nearly 40 percent of girls aged 13-15 in Santiago, Chile’s capital, smoke cigarettes, a rise from just 20 percent in 2003.
The ban in public places is seen by many as a total ban on smoking because most public venues in Chile do not have outdoor terraces and thus demand for cigarettes is expected to drop.
Recently, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a tough bill into law, which will from June this year prohibit smoking in schools, restaurants, long-distance trains and housing block entrance halls.
TCC then described this as a blow to the tobacco industry in the country, saying the ban and restrictions may discourage some Russians from smoking or others may end up quitting altogether.
The ban comes at a time other countries such as the United Kingdom, Germany, Spain and Australia also banned smoking in public places.
Tobacco is an economic life line for Malawi with available statistics indicating that it contributes about 25 percent to the gross domestic product (GDP) and employs up to 12 percent of the entire population.
According to TCC, this means that tobacco still remains our main source of economic livelihood at micro level as well as an engine of growth at macro level.
However, last year, both the volume and revenue from the leaf tumbled miserably to 79.8 million kilogrammes and $177 million ( about K70.8billion) from a volume of 236 million kilogrammes and $292 million (about K116.8billion) realised in the previous year respectively.