Tomorrow (31 May 2023, Wednesday) is the World No Tobacco Day (WNTD). The theme of WNTD 2023 is “Grow Food, Not Tobacco” which aims at raising awareness about alternative crop production and marketing opportunities for existing tobacco farmers to encourage them into growing sustainable and nutritious crops. It will also aim to expose the tobacco industry’s ill tactics to expand tobacco cultivation at the cost of the country’s limited arable land, threatening food security.
Almost 4 million hectares of land are being used in 125 countries of the world to cultivate tobacco. Most of these tobacco-growing countries are low- and middle-income countries, including Bangladesh.
According to the latest Year Book of Agricultural Statistics of Bangladesh 2021, a total of 99,600.24 hectares of land is being used to cultivate tobacco. Cultivating food crops in such a huge area of land would add 1,67,428 metric tons of boro rice, or 1,32,966 metric tons of wheat, or 8,50,387 metric tons of potatoes. It should be noted that in the Rabi harvest of 2021, the per acre average productions of boro rice, wheat, and potatoes are 1,681 kg, 1,335 kg, and 8,538 kg respectively.
With the emerging intensity of climate change, war, and a wide array of national and global factors, the issue of food security has become a growing concern for Bangladesh. In such circumstances, it is utterly unacceptable to lose out on such a huge amount of food grains to make room for tobacco which destroys public health and the environment.
Tobacco companies are using corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs as their foremost tool to hide the devastating impact of tobacco cultivation and ‘greenwash’ their brands. ABM Zubair, Executive Director, PROGGA (Knowledge for Progress) said, “The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has proposed a comprehensive ban on CSR programs of tobacco companies in the draft amendment of the tobacco control law which has been sent to the Cabinet Division for approval. The faster the amendment proposal is finalized, the easier it will be to realize the vision of tobacco-free Bangladesh.”
Notably, Bangladesh is the 9th largest country in the world, in terms of tobacco use. 35.3 percent of adults (15 y/o and above) use tobacco products. Tobacco-related illness claims 161,000 lives a year. According to the 2019 Global Burden of Disease Study, tobacco is one of the four contributing factors to deaths and disabilities in Bangladesh. The financial toll of tobacco is BDT 30,560 crore.