The Cigarette Trade: Kenya moves toward switch from tobacco to food; U.S. should “get right” on this issue

A few months before I moved to Kenya I helped teach a church seminar on globalization.  Mississippi was a pioneer in the state lawsuits against tobacco companies for smoking-related costs and had education programs funded from the proceeds, so it was especially striking to me in preparing to teach to read materials about U.S. advocacy for tobacco exports in negotiating a number of trade agreements.  I had also  just returned from a trip to Japan where I couldn’t help but notice how ubiquitous “the Marlboro Man” still was.  Back in 1999 when I was preparing to teach a program for IRI in Mongolia I saw statistics about the huge increase in smoking during that first post-communist decade and saw very small children peddling cigarettes on the street.

It was in this context that I was especially interested to see a recent post by Thomas Bollyky on the Center for Global Development’s Global Health Policy blog, “Ten Years On, America has Dropped the Ball on the Global Tobacco Epidemic”:

We want to stop American kids from smoking; why don’t we have the same concern for Asian or African kids? Senator John McCain asked that question on the floor of the U.S. Senate fifteen years ago. And, this week, on the ten-year anniversary of President Bill Clinton’s executive order instructing U.S. agencies to take “strong action to address the potential global epidemic of diseases caused by tobacco use,” that same question is still being asked about U.S. policy.

“Smoke and Mirrors:  It’s time for Washington to stop giving cigarette makers an open door to developing countries” by Thomas J. Bollyky  in Foreign Policy:

Smoking-control efforts in developing countries are stalling in the face of fierce industry opposition. Tobacco industry promotional investments dwarf expenditures on tobacco control in these countries. In 2009, the WHO reported that less than 10 percent of the world’s population is covered by any of the WHO-recommended measures to reduce demand for tobacco and regulate tobacco-industry marketing.

Some policymakers in Washington make the argument that American jobs depend on tobacco companies’ free access to developing countries. But that’s a false choice: Doing more for international tobacco control would not put U.S. jobs at risk. The United States currently exports significant volumes of high-quality tobacco leaf and premium cigarettes to Japan, Europe, and affluent Middle Eastern countries, but hardly anything at all to cost-sensitive developing-country markets. Moreover, cigarette production has largely shifted to overseas factories. With domestic consumption declining, the tobacco industry now provides less than 2 percent of the jobs in the six southeastern U.S. states most associated with tobacco growing and product manufacturing.

In fact, taking the lead on international tobacco control would clearly be in the national interest of the United States. . . .

“Kenya:  Tobacco farmers at the crossroads” from AfricaFiles

The battle between pro- and anti-tobacco groups in Kenya ratchets up as market indicators and a ‘fact-finding mission’ has led to a call for the abandonment of the historical cash crop in the Kuria District and beyond. Diminishing tobacco prices, environmental damage and questionable corporate contracts with local farmers have been used as fuel for a quickly expanding political and economic fire. Vested interests on either side have launched campaigns in support of their respective causes while concerns continue over the eventual consequence for Kenya’s fertile ground; particularly given the land’s potential capacity for food production.

“Farmers replacing tobacco with food crops in Kenya”  in the New Agriculturalist

Due to the high number of deaths and costs associated with tobacco consumption, the Kenyan government has initiated a programme to alternate tobacco with other crops. “Since the alternation process began more than a year ago, we have managed to introduce several food cash crops to farmers and they are making more money than they would from tobacco,” explains Dr William Maina, who heads the communicable diseases department in the Ministry of Health. Farmers have been provided with loans to help them grow alternative crops, including sugarcane, cotton, oranges, pineapples, bananas, cassava and maize.

The crop alternation process has been influenced by the Tobacco Control Bill, signed by Kenya’s president, Mwai Kibaki, in 2007. While the Bill does not outlaw the cultivation of tobacco, the regulation does call for the promotion of economically viable alternative crops. “The US$300 million we generate in revenue from tobacco is very little considering that we are spending well over US$1 billion treating tobacco related diseases each year,” Dr Maina adds. Government representatives have said that tobacco also threatens food security and has resulted in higher food import costs.

Alternative crops are now being grown on about 40 per cent of the land that was previously under tobacco cultivation. .  .  .

“Kenya: Delegation takes a hard stance against tobacco”

Kenya on Thursday took a hard stance against tobacco, according to officials attending the WHO FCTC (Framework Convention on Tobacco Control) Conference of Parties in Uruguay.

The delegation supported the proposed guidelines in articles 9 and 10 of the FCTC calling for a ban of tobacco ingredients in blended cigarettes. Basically, the proposals prohibit use of ingredients to enhance or sweeten cigarette taste.

This stance is at variance with the positions taken by Comesa and African Union countries. The delegation said countries growing the crop were “suffering under tobacco slavery and needing help from Western countries”.

Countries whose economies are heavily dependent on the crop and fearing damages to their economies are said to be heavily aggrieved by the position.

Following the Comesa Heads of states conference, members were urged to oppose the recommended ban on ingredients in tobacco products to preserve the trading bloc’s economies.

Kenyan farmers grow the crop in Western and Eastern parts of the country and cigarettes have become a major trade commodity for British American Tobacco, which exports 60 per cent of its production, and Mastermind Tobacco. . . .