Tobacco Smoking Contributes to Food Insecurity: WORLD NO TOBACCO DAY 2023

Tobacco control advocates throughout the world have dedicated today, May 31, 2023, to commemorate World No Tobacco Day. An annual event aimed at raising awareness about the dangers of tobacco use. This year’s theme is “We need food and not tobacco,” which emphasizes how tobacco farming and use robs food from individuals while it seeks to educate the public on the significance of protecting their food security. This is important as the use of tobacco products in the country contributes to households’ inability to afford sufficient food, worsening food insecurity. According to Professor Lekan Ayo-Yusuf, Director of the Africa Centre for Tobacco Industry Monitoring and Policy Research group (ATIM) and Chairperson of the School of Health Systems and Public Health at the University of Pretoria,

“The affordability of cigarettes and/or e-cigarettes and related products, coupled with their addictive nature, may divert household income towards sustaining smoking or ‘vaping’ habits rather than investing in food security measures. This diversion can exacerbate food insecurity, especially among already socio-economically vulnerable populations, perpetuating a cycle of poverty and malnutrition”, says Prof Ayo-Yusuf. This is especially more relevant now than ever before since studies in South Africa and elsewhere have shown that the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change impacts have further intensified food insecurity due to economic disruptions and increased household vulnerabilities. The majority of farmers that cultivate tobacco are from low- and middle-income families. Due to low wages and the perceived need to increase revenue, they are forced to work at the mercy of the tobacco industry, while simultaneously being exposed to the risks associated with tobacco production.

According to GATS, 2021,  surveyed adult reported a monthly spending of about R263  on cigarettes while early results from an ongoing study by the ATIM research group at the University of Pretoria shows that young adults spend about R250 monthly on e-cigarettes, which could otherwise be used for food, thereby increasing the risk for food insecurity.

The global campaign of 2023, therefore, aims to raise awareness about alternative crop production and marketing opportunities for tobacco farmers and encourage them to grow sustainable, nutritious crops. It also aims to encourage a shift from using tobacco products to food. It further aims to expose the tobacco industry’s efforts to interfere with attempts to substitute tobacco growing with sustainable crops, thereby contributing to the global food crisis. This global campaign is guided by Article 17 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which states that strategies and policies should focus on promoting economically viable alternatives for tobacco workers, growers, and tobacco sellers, as well as Article 18, which states that parties must improve environmental and public health protection as it relates to tobacco production.

The public and the environment continue to incur losses as a result of tobacco cultivation and usage, while the tobacco industry benefits. The tobacco industry frequently uses deceptive strategies to persuade the government that they are assisting farmers in transitioning to alternative sustainable crops, despite the fact that tobacco production remains a major activity in their industry.  As a result, there is an urgent need for action to combat tobacco smoking and its effects on household finances and health. The government should assist farmers in shifting away from tobacco and toward more sustainable crops in order to improve their livelihoods and the economic development of the country.

For further information, please contact: [Prof Lekan Ayo-Yusuf] [Director – ATIM] []

[Ms. Kgomotso Kali] [Project Coordinator – ATIM] []