MANILA, Philippines – With the recent celebration of World Tobacco Growers Day, tobacco farmers slammed the World Health Organization (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), claiming that they have always been consistently deaf to the plight of tobacco farmers and stakeholders. However, on November 12-17, health representatives from all over the world will converge in Seoul, South Korea for the 5th Conference of Parties (COP5) to discuss the FCTC. Part of its agenda includes Articles 17 and 18, which ensures the protection of tobacco farmers.
“The WHO FCTC is not your enemy, we are not your enemy,” said Irene Reyes, Managing Director of HealthJustice, a public health policy NGO. “In fact, although the first mandate of the FCTC is to reduce smoking prevalence, one of its guiding principles stresses the importance of technical and financial assistance to ensure that those whose livelihoods are affected by tobacco control are given suitable alternatives.”
Southeast Asian Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) Director Bungon Ritthiphakdee said that the International Tobacco Growers Association (ITGA), a known tobacco industry front group, is “clearly perpetuating a falsehood – a strategy also used by the tobacco industry in other parts of the world – that the tobacco control measures to which the Philippines is committed will leave them all twisting in the wind. This is not true. In fact, 15% of the incremental revenues from excise tax allocation goes into the welfare of farmers to take care of them.”
Health groups also condemned the statements of Philippine Tobacco Growers Association President Saturnino Distor, who said that the WHO proposals “put the lives of some 2.7 million tobacco farmers and their dependents at risk without offering them economically viable alternative crops.”
Former tobacco farmer Avelino “Ka Abe” Dacanay has shifted to planting corn, which he says earns him more money due to its multiple rotations. “Hindi Sin Tax ang papatay sa tobacco industry, kundi ang di tama na pagbigay ng presyo sa tobacco. Ang industriya ang dapat ikatakot ng mga magsasaka,” he says.
Ka Abe is also a representative of the Solidarity of Peasants Against Exploitation, better known as Stop-Ex. He now fights for farmers’ rights in the country.
Studies show that crops such as corn, peppers, onions, and tomatoes stand to earn farmers a bigger profit as compared to tobacco. “COP5 aims to discuss the guidelines on the implementation of alternative livelihood for tobacco farmers so that the government can invest in programs that can help them shift to these healthier and more profitable crops,” continues Reyes. ###