ITGA: Global Farmer Petition against “Devastating” World Health Organization (WHO) Proposals Gains Momentum

Key representatives of tobacco farmer organizations from around the world met in Lexington, Kentucky this week and accused the WHO of complete indifference towards millions of farmers’ and their families’ livelihoods in some of the poorest parts of the world. Eighty percent of the world’s traded tobacco production was represented at this year’s International Tobacco Growers Association (ITGA) Annual General Meeting, where farmers discussed the devastating impact that new guidelines for the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) could have if adopted in Uruguay in November.

Guidelines for articles 9, 10, 17 and 18 of the FCTC would ban the use of ingredients used in tobacco products and reduce the tobacco planted area worldwide. The ITGA, which represents 30 million farmers with a deep understanding of the crop, argues that these measures will have disastrous social and economic consequences without making any difference to peoples’ health. In spite of ringing the alarm bells, the ITGA’s request for a seat at the table has been rejected by the WHO; it has dismissed farmers as interferences.

“We are the people most affected by these guidelines”, says Antonio Abrunhosa, CEO of the ITGA. “Yet people with very limited understanding of how tobacco is grown are deciding on our fate at the throw of a dice, without even consulting us.”

To add salt to the wound, the Framework Convention Alliance (FCA), a well funded group of NGOs, whose sole purpose is to ‘develop and implement the FCTC’, recently labelled tobacco farmers’ pleas as ‘misleading information.’ In a document published on its website, it argues that the guidelines do not ban Burley tobacco, but ignore the fact that without ingredients, demand for Burley would virtually disappear, leaving no economically viable alternative crop for its farmers. The FCA also argue that ingredients make cigarettes more ‘attractive’ but ignore the fact that half the world’s smokers already prefer cigarettes with less ingredients.

“We have no issue with the WHO regulating tobacco consumption,” says Abrunhosa. “But they should listen to those who understand the crop and not just those who hate it.”

In recent weeks a petition opposing the WHO proposals has been launched by the ITGA and circulated to tobacco farmers around the world. So far the petition has generated more than 200,000 signatures from 25 tobacco growing countries. On November 8, one week before the Uruguay meeting, tobacco farmers will present their governments with their signed petitions, calling on them to, “Stop the Conference of the Parties of the FCTC from destroying tobacco farmers’ livelihoods and to reject the draft guidelines for articles 9 and 10 and the recommendations for articles 17 and 18.”

The Framework Convention of Tobacco Control (FCTC) is the first treaty negotiated under the auspices of the WHO.

Article 9 of the FCTC aims to regulate the contents of tobacco products, i.e., the testing and measuring of tobacco contents and emissions. Article 10 of the FCTC aims at regulating tobacco product disclosures, i.e. disclosure of contents and emissions of tobacco products. A working group, led by Canada, Norway and the European Union, developed detailed guidelines on Articles 9 and 10 for countries to follow when implementing national legislation. The latest version of the draft guidelines recommends a ban on the use of ingredients in tobacco products.

Articles 17 and 18 of the FCTC address economically sustainable alternatives to tobacco growing. The latest recommendations will be discussed at the 4th Conference of the Parties and state that “Parties should, in cooperation with relevant national, regional and international organizations, not invest in the production and/or promotion of tobacco production [and] also gradually reduce the area under tobacco…”

Signatories to the FCTC will discuss and vote the guidelines on articles 9 and 10 and debate articles 17 and 18 at the 4th Conference of the Parties meeting in Uruguay in November 2010.

The ITGA is a non-profit organization founded in 1984 with the objective of presenting the cause of millions of tobacco farmers to the world. ITGA strives to provide a strong collective voice on an international and national scale in order to ensure the long-term security of tobacco leaf markets. Its members consist of tobacco growers from 26 countries, representing 85 percent of the world’s tobacco production.