‘Tobacco not Green Gold’- Anti-smoking campaigner José Luis Castro

Written by  Winnie Agnes Botha

The 17th World Conference on Tobacco or Health has been going on In Cape Town, South Africa (7-8 March, 2018). About 2000 delegates from 120 countries have been in attendance. Tobacco Control Policies and Tobacco epidemic burden are among the topics highly highlighted. The Tobacco Atlas sixth edition was also launched. The document among others highlights the burden of tobacco epidemic in Malawi. The Tobacco Atlas states that Tobacco harms the health, the treasury, and the spirit of Malawi and that every year; more than 5700 of its people are killed by tobacco-caused disease. Still, more than 5000 children (10-14 years old) and 707000 adults (15+ years old) continue to use tobacco each day. Complacency in the face of the tobacco epidemic insulates the tobacco industry in Malawi and ensures that tobacco's death toll will grow every year. This reporter Winnie Botha (WB) has been at the conference and caught up with the one of the top speakers at the function José Luis Castro (JLC), President and CEO of Vital Strategies (an organisation advocating for Tobacco Control in the world)

José Luis Castro: CEO, Vital Strategies José Luis Castro: CEO, Vital Strategies

WB: When you hear that tobacco is ‘Gold’ for some African countries like Malawi, how do you feel?

JLC: It’s sad that some countries call tobacco ‘’green Gold’’ You know it kills people and it does not really make the economy better. In fact tobacco makes people sick and it will be a cost on the economy and eventually they will die. So to say that it’s a green gold mmm it is a “mislabel”.  

WB: How can an economy like Malawi’s migrate from Tobacco which we know has dark consequences to better alternatives?

JLC: I believe in an agricultural economy there are other crops that are healthier that are foods, that are needed by the population to survive and those crops are equally profitable and they can help in countries like Malawi in transitioning from tobacco as the only cash crop

WB: From the Atlas (http://tobaccoatlas.org/) we see a trend where countries with high tobacco production bear the burden of environmental degradation and public health crisis that come from tobacco, where do we go from this?

JLC: The Atlas provides the necessary message and information with data on the realities of what has been happening in the world on tobacco and I think this should be used by policy makers to enact policies to stop environmental degradation. The farmers should be educated about alternatives and those alternatives should be healthier for the population and should be better for the environment.

WB: We’ve grown up (in Malawi) to the message that tobacco is one of the major employment providers and that bringing in alternatives may not cover the extent which tobacco covers when it comes to the provision of employment, what can you say.

JLC: I think that is an argument that has been used to slow progress but the fact is you don’t need tobacco to live. If the farmers are educated and provided with the necessary support on other crops they can benefit far much better than tobacco.  Just like those countries that do not grow tobacco.

WB: Crop diversification is one of the strategies used by the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control to win countries’ commitments on tobacco control, but the smoke free advocates are so working hard to advocate for a free world in as far as smoking and tobacco are concerned. Don’t you think they are a step ahead?

JLC: I believe what they (smoke free advocates) are trying to do is to maintain the status quo. They are not bringing in any change that will affect the Tobacco Control campaign, you know. So don’t believe the claims that they are providing solutions to the farmers.

WHO mentions African countries like Kenya, Algeria, Zimbabwe, and Ghana among others that have ratified the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and are moving to other sources of generating revenue.  Health experts argue that Malawi has tried of late to produce legumes through a number of farmers and it has proved to bring more revenue than tobacco.

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