Magazine article African Business

WHO Threat to African Tobacco

Magazine article African Business

WHO Threat to African Tobacco

Article excerpt

The tobacco industry is facing a bleak future in East Africa if hints that the multi-billion dollar international company, British America Tobacco (BAT) plans to pull out of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda prove correct.

In Kenya, tobacco is mainly grown in Eastern, Nyanza and Western provinces. Farmers in the three regions have already expressed fears that BAT and a locally incorporated firm, Mastermind Tobacco (K), will not purchase all this season's crops.

The fears have been aggravated by BAT's recent retrenchment of half of the work-force in its leaf department, and reports that it is only prepared to buy less than half the tonnage of tobacco from its sponsored farmers.

The closing down of BAT would seriously erode the Kenyan government revenue base. The tobacco industry generates over Kshs15bn in turnover and pays about Kshs9bn to the government - the second largest tax payer in the country after East African Breweries Limited. The industry employs at least 150,000 people.

The move by the tobacco companies is due to uncertainties in the industry caused by the impending adoption by the World Health Organisation (WHO) of legislation on tobacco control, set introduction in 2003.

Health hazards

Although tobacco is probably the most lucrative cash crop for rural farming communities in Kenya, young farmers interviewed by African Business claim they are contracting asthma, skin complaints and dry coughs through continual inhalation of tobacco smoke during curing and the handling of chemicals. There appears to be clear evidence of typhoid fever, amoebic dysentery and other stomach complications caused by polluted water increasing among tobacco farmers.

The WHO has set a deadline date of May 2003 for adoption of its framework convention on tobacco control, making it one of the top two WHO priorities along with malaria. …

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