Johannesburg – The International Tobacco Growers Association (ITGA) has accused the World Health Organisation (WHO) of sidelining the industry when making decisions that had an effect on it.
ITGA president Francois van der Merwe said the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control had banned dozens of officials representing tobacco growing countries from participation in its conference in Delhi, India, next month.“We have been trying to engage the WHO on health matters so that any differences they have with our industry can be resolved. We have written to them since 2012 and they haven’t responded in the last four years. Now I have just written to UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon and I hope his intervention in this regard will help,” said Van der Merwe.
Van der Merwe said the group wanted the health organisation to look beyond health to what he called a significant role that the industry played in job creation, eradicating poverty and paying taxes to governments.
Tobacco earnings contribute nearly 20 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) in countries such as Zimbabwe and the crop alone accounts for 40 percent of exports.
Van der Merwe said in South Africa the industry contributed about R16 billion to the Treasury last year through taxes.
He said big corporations such as British American Tobacco (BAT) were important players in the economy.
“We are also employing between 10 000 and 12 000 people of which 8 000 of them are from the rural areas. Most of these people are breadwinners in their families so I can say around 35 000 people make a living through the tobacco industry,” Van der Merwe said.
He said the industry employed more than 50 000 globally and contributed to countries’ GDPs through taxes.
“The industry should be supported and be included in the processes that affect them but the governments tend to distance themselves,” Van der Merwe said, adding that ITGA had commissioned an independent study on the industry’s overall impact in communities.
“One of the issues that the ITGA doesn’t agree with is the proposal by the WHO to reduce nicotine in cigarettes by a large percentage.”
“They want to reduce nicotine in tobacco plants 10 times. Those are extreme measures. It is like taking the sugar out of the sweets,” he said.
He said banning the industry from conferences would not solve the situation as counterfeits still flocked into most countries.
“The industry is facing 25 percent of illicit trade and it costs the government about R4bn a year in lost taxes.