Zim vows to fight proposed global ban on tobacco

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Zimbabwe, the world’s largest producer of flue-cured tobacco, may soon accede to the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s framework treaty on tobacco control, which seeks to create a tobacco-free world by 2015, after realising entering the boxing ring would be the only way to stop the crusade.
Proposed last month under the intergovernmental organisation’s Draft Guidelines Articles 9 and 10, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control comprises a set of measures that would ban some cigarette products, excluding others considered less harmful.
The draft legislation — a result of over 17 years of intense lobbying by pressure groups — threatens to harm the livelihoods of at least 240 000 people employed directly in the industry and to stifle efforts to reinstate Zimbabwe to its former position as the world’s largest tobacco exporter.
Zimbabwe is the world’s largest producer of flue-cured Virginia tobacco used to produce cigarettes with medium to high levels of nicotine, the most harmful component of tobacco products.
Together with 45 other tobacco producing countries in Africa, the country is still to sign or ratify the framework treaty for fear this global initiative to address the health and economic impacts of tobacco would have disastrous consequences for the industry, now the second largest foreign currency earner.
Kevin Cooke, president of the Zimbabwe Tobacco Association, says his union has implored the government to sign the international tobacco control agreement and then push for amendments “from within” as playing bystander would give proponents of the treaty the critical democratic muscle they need.
“Signing the treaty could be what saves people’s jobs at the moment,” said Cooke. “It’s important for Zimbabwe to sign the treaty. We are a still voice out of the treaty. We do not have a voice. At least countries who signed are airing their views, but Zimbabwe does not have a voice,” said Cooke, adding this decision would sustain the recovery of the industry for the time being.
In the 2009/10 growing season, output increased to about 90 million kilogrammes from around 50 million kilogrammes in 2007 with its contribution to gross domestic product also increasing to 26% in 2009 from 12% in 2008.
Although still shy of their 1994 peak of $430 million, foreign currency earnings from tobacco shipments have started picking up since the country adopted multiple currencies last year, rising to $169 million from $156 million in 2008.
This year’s tobacco selling season has attracted a total of 22 000 growers compared to 28 000 growers last year. By Monday last week a total of 74 million kilogrammes of tobacco had gone under the hammer raking $223 million since the start of the tobacco selling season in March.
Against these facts, the Agrarian Task Force of the National Economic Consultative Forum in a position paper has also advised the government to accede to the framework agreement.
“Zimbabwe is the producer of the best flue-cured Virginia Tobacco in the world. Therefore, any form of restrictions and ban on tobacco has serious implications on the farming sector and will generally impact land reform. Tobacco growing supports many rural folks livelihoods.
Therefore, it becomes important that Zimbabwe’s voice and a seat at the table will neutralise the hard positions of those countries pushing for the total ban of tobacco as a crop.”