WHO urges governments to stop tobacco farming in Western Pacific

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday urged governments in the Western Pacific region to stop subsidizing tobacco farming and support sustainable crops that could feed millions instead, according to a statement released by the WHO.

“It’s time to grow food, not tobacco,” said Zsuzsanna Jakab, WHO acting regional director for the Western Pacific, stressing that more than 400 million in the region use tobacco, and 3 million users are killed every year.

“When governments prioritize business over health, ecosystems will be lost, people will go hungry, and health will decline,” she said in the statement.

According to the Manila-based WHO regional office, more than 1 million hectares of land in the Western Pacific region are used to grow tobacco, while millions of people still face food insecurity.

“Imagine if we used the same 1 million hectares to grow nutritious food. We could nourish millions of people, help children grow and develop, and support adults to reach their full potential,” Jakab said.

Meanwhile, tobacco farming exposes farmers and their families to toxic tobacco dust and chemical pesticides. Additionally, the environment suffers due to deforestation, contamination of water sources, and soil degradation, the UN health agency said in the latest report entitled “Grow food, not tobacco.”

“Trees cut down for tobacco farming make up 5 percent of global deforestation,” the WHO said.

Furthermore, more than 1 million child laborers worldwide are estimated to be working on tobacco farms and missing out on education, the WHO added.

“Tobacco growing is a global problem,” said the WHO, which encourages the governments to shift from tobacco to economically viable alternative crops through appropriate policy support and interventions. ■

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