Tobacco Control Reduces Poverty
Tobacco and global poverty have an often overlooked connection. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “Many studies have shown that in the poorest households in many low-income countries, spending on tobacco products often represent more than 10 percent of total household expenditure.”

The WHO, the U.N. and other international organizations have recognized and researched this link to decrease tobacco use and poverty rates. Here are five ways tobacco control reduces poverty globally:

1. Tobacco control will relieve financial hardships.

Tobacco addictions exacerbate an already stressful financial situation for those living in poverty.

Families, as a result, have less to spend on food, education, healthcare and other necessities. Bangladesh, for example, spends 10 times the amount on tobacco than on education. Tobacco control reduces poverty by helping families spend less on tobacco, freeing up more income to spend on necessities.

2. Tobacco control will save lives.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports 6 million tobacco-related deaths worldwide per year. Tobacco users die 10 years earlier than non-users. Smoking also causes cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung diseases, diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Tobacco control is known as one of the most effective ways to reduce consumption. Its implementation would reduce the amount of smoking-related illnesses, keeping more workers in the labor force and ease health care expenditures for families.

3. Tobacco control will reduce exploitation.

Tobacco also affects those who produce it. Farmers who produce tobacco on a small-scale in developing countries depend heavily on the tobacco industry. Although large corporations provide credit for farmers, including seeds, fertilizer, pesticides and technological support, they expect the farmers to forgo profits and sell at the company’s contract price. This is further evidence that tobacco control reduces poverty.

Furthermore, farmers’ children have saved the tobacco industry an estimated $1.2 billion in production costs through unpaid child labor. The industry employs 63 percent of children in tobacco-farming families, preventing 10-14 percent from attending school for work’s sake.

The lack of education drives individuals deeper into poverty. Tobacco control reduces poverty not only by giving farmers better opportunities to provide for themselves, but also eliminating the need for children to sacrifice school for work, ultimately granting them the chance to move up social classes in the future.

4. Tobacco control will improve economies.

Tobacco takes away 1-2 percent of the world’s GDP annually. A 2011 WHO report found that governments can introduce effective tobacco control measures for as little as $0.11 per person per year. If governments allocated the extra revenue from such taxes to their health budgets, WHO found this year in a report that “public expenditure on health would increase by four percent globally.”

Currently, the costs of tobacco production outweigh the profits. For example, although Tanzania earns $50 million from tobacco sales annually, the African country spends $40 million on health care for tobacco-related cancers.

Tobacco control in the form of taxes would increase government revenue and funds for the poor.

5. Tobacco control will help the achieve the SDGs.

The U.N.’s Division for Sustainable Development seeks to reduce poverty and coordinate the 17 internationally agreed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The aforementioned effects of tobacco control directly align themselves with the SDGs, as they include no poverty or hunger, good health and well-being, quality education and economic growth worldwide by 2030.

Because of its negative byproducts, tobacco use is considered a hindrance to global development.

However, with proper tobacco control, individuals, governments and organizations believe it can provide sustainable benefits.

Ashley Leon

Photo: Pixabay


It is illegal in the U.S. for someone under the age of 18 to buy a pack of cigarettes, but it is legal for a child as young as 11-years-old to work in a tobacco field.

A recent study done by Human Rights Watch reported that many children start to work in tobacco fields once the school year is over. Many of these kids are children of Hispanic immigrants who live in cities near the fields.

Many of the working children have had acute nicotine poisoning symptoms. These symptoms include nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, headache, dizziness, irritation and difficulty breathing.

Child laborers are more prone to getting acute nicotine poisoning when the tobacco leaves are wet and dewy. Children can absorb up to 50 cigarettes worth of nicotine through their skin on rainy days.

It was reported by Human Rights Watch that children are getting a drift of the pesticides that are being sprayed on nearby fields. The child laborers claimed that when the spray drifted their way they began to vomit and feel dizzy; it became difficult for them to breathe and they started to have a burning sensation in their eyes.

Children are more prone to having long-term effects from pesticides since their bodies are still developing. The long-term effects include cancer, problems with learning and cognition and reproductive health issues.

Aside from exposure to pesticides from other fields nearby, there were also many accidents due to sharp tools. Often times children are put in danger by having to work with big tools and machinery, lift heavy loads and climb up heights to hang tobacco in barns.

Child laborers working on tobacco farms often work long hours and do not get paid overtime. In addition, they often work in extremely hot weather conditions without sufficient breaks and do not wear protective gear.

Many child laborers said they had no access to toilets or a sink to wash their hands, which meant they still had pesticide residue while they were taking their lunch breaks.

Here are a few listed facts that were included in a report done by the Human Rights Watch. Of 133 children interviewed:

  • 53 percent saw tractors spraying pesticides in the fields they were working for or in the nearby fields.
  • 68 percent reported symptoms consistent with acute nicotine poisoning: nausea, vomiting, headaches, dizziness and loss of appetite.
  • 73 percent reported getting sick with nausea, headaches, respiratory illness, skin conditions and other symptoms
  • 13 is the median age that children started working at.
  • Most children worked 50-60 hours per week.
  • $1.5 billion is the total value of tobacco leaf production in the U.S. in 2012 and $7.25 is the hourly wage most children reported earning.

Not only do child workers suffer from physical and health conditions, but also in their everyday lives, including hunger, stunted growth and higher school dropout rates.

 — Priscilla Rodarte

Sources: CNN 1, CNN 2, Human Rights Watch, Labor Rights
Photo: Politix

Big Business: Promoting Unhealthy Lifestyles

As our world works towards the eradication of all infectious diseases we have seen a rise in non-communicable diseases such as obesity, cancer, and COPD. These unhealthy lifestyles are promoted by big businesses that sell items such as unhealthy foods and tobacco. Margaret Chan, the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) said, “Economic growth, modernization, and urbanization have opened wide the entry point for the spread of unhealthy lifestyles.” The efforts to regulate unhealthy lifestyles are not in the interest of most big businesses.

Big businesses are able to lobby for favorable policies in the government. They use tactics such as front groups, promises of self-regulation, and lawsuits to shift the focus away from the unhealthy lifestyles they are promoting. These businesses also gift and give grants to worthy causes to look admirable in the public eye. The main tactic these businesses use is the argument that an individual is responsible for their own health, and that the government has no right to interfere with a person’s free choice.

“This is formidable opposition. Market power readily translates into political power, few governments prioritize health over big business. As we learned from experience with the tobacco industry, a powerful corporation can sell the public just about anything,” stated Dr. Chan.

Dr. Chan is most concerned about two recent trends that have emerged. The first is governments being taken to court over measures to protect the health of their citizens. We saw this happen recently in New York City where the law regulating soda size was deemed illegal by the court. The second trend is industries having influence in shaping “public health policies and strategies that affect their products.” Dr. Chan argues, “When industry is involved in policy-making, rest assured that the most effective control measures will be downplayed or left out entirely. This, too, is well documented, and dangerous.” Dr. Chan urges governments to keep big businesses out of health policy formation because it only distorts the real issues. Dr. Chan and the WHO are working diligently on identifying and pursuing processes that limit big businesses in public health decision-making.

– Catherine Ulrich

Source: UN News
Photo: Los Angeles