WHO-proposed cuts in tobacco production aims to reduce smoking and tobacco use.
By Biljana Lajmanovska for Southeast European Times in Skopje -- 19/09/12
Though WHO will introduce measures to decrease cigarette consumption and smoking, it claims it will not interfere in the agricultural tobacco production. [Reuters]
Tobacco producers from the Balkans are united against the World Health Organisation's (WHO) new rules for tobacco production. Representatives of more than 100,000 tobacco producers from Macedonia, Serbia, Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey met in Skopje last week and agreed to oppose the regulations, which would put harsh controls over tobacco production.
This week WHO finalised the rules that will be offered for adoption at the November conference for control of the tobacco production, to be held in Seoul, South Korea.
If the measures, already announced at the Framework Convention for Tobacco Control, are adopted, the signatory countries will have to reduce the production of tobacco, especially of the oriental blend that is mainly grown in the Balkans. Also, the measures demand the seizure of any state financial support for the tobacco production.
Tobacco farmer Antonio Spasoski, 50, of Prilep, Macedonia, is preparing to turn in his latest production for a repurchase, but worries over the announcement of the new rules.
"I heard something but no one gives us more information. My entire family works in the tobacco field. This is how I managed to raise and school my children. Now I really have no idea how it is going to turn out … But I hope that they will not ban my tobacco because this is my only source of livelihood," Spasoski told SETimes.
The Balkan countries have been trying to find an alternative to the production of the oriental tobacco for years, yet all research shows that the replacement will not be cost-effective for the producers.
"If the recommendations of the WHO are accepted, 200,000 to 250,000 people in Macedonia will be forced to fight for their livelihood. We have no alternative. This tobacco is grown here for over 100 years," Dancho Mileski, president of the Association of Tobacco Producers, told SETimes.
According to the producers, WHO will introduce measures to decrease cigarette consumption and smoking, but will not interfere in the agricultural tobacco production.
"Measures of the WHO are not good. No smoker will give up smoking just because his country is reducing tobacco production," said Antonio Abrunhosa, CEO of the International Tobacco Growers' Association.
"Forcing a governments by a decree to reduce tobacco production will only leave out of work hundreds of thousands or maybe even millions tobacco growers that have no other means for existence," he said.
Approximately 6.5 million tonnes of tobacco is produced in the world every year -- a large part of it in the Balkan countries. Macedonia is the 30th biggest tobacco producer in the world and well-known for the production of oriental tobacco.
Out of the total value of the export of agricultural products from Macedonia, 22.2 percent is tobacco export. Almost one third of the Macedonian state budget is financed by the work of the tobacco companies. Tobacco producers in this country receive additional government support amounting to 1 euro for every kilogram of produced tobacco.
Macedonia's Agriculture Minister Ljupco Dimovski said that these arguments are sufficient for the government to protect the tobacco production and continue the financial support despite the WHO conclusions.
"Macedonia is one of the countries that signed the Framework Convention for Tobacco Control, but its strategy is going into direction towards forceful decrease in the tobacco production, which is absolutely unacceptable and unreasonable. We stand firm on our decision to continue to support the production of oriental tobacco in Macedonia," Dimovski told SETimes.
Tobacco consumption in the world has been constantly growing and the WHO continues to search for ways to decrease the use of cigarettes. Most Balkan countries produce tobacco, but have introduced strong anti-smoking legislation forbidding smoking in public spaces.
Macedonia ranks among the biggest tobacco producers, but has one of the toughest anti-smoking laws -- smoking is forbidden in all public places and no special rooms are offered to smokers in public buildings.