We need food NOT tobacco to protect our world from food crises and the world’s most deadly industries 

A 2022 study report by the Vision for Alternative Development on the “Economics of Tobacco Taxation/Control in Ghana” revealed that an estimated 804,900 Ghanaian adults smoked cigarettes in 2015 on a daily basis.

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The Vision for Alternative Development (VALD-Ghana) joins the World Health Organization (WHO), its Partners, and millions of health advocates worldwide to mark this year’s World No-Tobacco Day 2023 on the theme, “Growing sustainable food instead of tobacco”. The campaign this year strives to raise awareness of the harmful effects of tobacco on health, and the environment, and the economic implications of tobacco use and cultivation. It also aims to raise awareness about the ways the tobacco industry interferes with attempts to substitute tobacco growing with sustainable crops, thereby contributing to the global food crisis.

A global food crisis is growing which is fueled by conflict, climate change, the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ripple effects of the war in Ukraine driving rising prices of food, fuel, and fertilizer. Tobacco growing and production lead to long-term, global ecological harms and climate change, and play a crucial role in determining the future of agriculture and food security.  Currently, tobacco is grown in over 125 countries as a cash crop, over an estimated area of 4 million hectares, which is an area larger than the country of Rwanda. The harmful effects of cultivation on the environment are particularly apparent in low- and middle-income countries.

It is important to note that from an estimated 1461 farmers in 2005, the number of tobacco farmers declined steadily in the succeeding years to reach an estimated 538 workers in 2019. Even though the number has declined, there are still tobacco growing in some parts of Ghana, especially in the middle and northern parts. In Gbefi, a town in the Volta Region of Ghana, tobacco growing is active and it is the main crop.

A 2022 study report by the Vision for Alternative Development on the “Economics of Tobacco Taxation/Control in Ghana” revealed that an estimated 804,900 Ghanaian adults smoked cigarettes in 2015 on a daily basis. The number is projected to reach 1.7 million by 2025 if stringent measures are not taken to curb this menace. This, therefore, makes tobacco a major public health threat in Ghana, especially among the young people and women who are now getting addicted to flavored tobacco or shisha and electronic cigarettes. Despite the absolute ban on tobacco advertising, promotion, sponsorship as well as the introduction of pictorial health warnings and the ban on public smoking, etc. more efforts are needed to reinforce tobacco control policies and help reduce its disease burden and death toll.

Reducing tobacco consumption needs to be identified as a key pedal for achieving all of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), not just those directly related to health. The campaign calls on governments and policymakers to support farmers to switch to sustainable crops by creating market ecosystems for alternative crops and encourage at least 10 000 farmers globally to commit to shifting away from tobacco growing.

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The above narrations show us how the tobacco industry contributes to extreme poverty where the poorest people are the ones most negatively affected. Due to the addictive nature of tobacco products, monies that could be used on education, food, shelter, and health care, are invested in smoking tobacco.

Ghana’s Planting for Food and Jobs (PFJ) initiative, launched in 2017, is one example of such innovation programmes. This initiative supports the theme for this year’s observation of World No-Tobacco Day and we are by this release urging our government to identify and support tobacco farmers in Ghana to shift to the production of sustainable food over tobacco, a product that has no known benefit.

Growing tobacco takes a lot of pesticides and fertilizers as this demonstrates how the tobacco industry damages the environment. These toxic elements seep into water supplies, but the damage doesn’t stop there. The manufacturing process creates more than 2 million tons of waste and consumes 4.3 million hectares of land. It is estimated that this contributes between 2% and 4% of the world’s deforestation. If you like to breathe air, it is worth saving as much of our forests as possible.

Countries are now facing another epidemic from cigarette butts, washed into our river bodies and the sea affecting aquatic life. Around 4.5 trillion cigarette butts are discarded every year, making them the most littered item on Earth. These butts are single-used plastics and must be banned to avert more health crises.

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We are dealing with an industry that seeks to present a different business model and portray itself as socially responsible – while at the same time, it continues to use multiple tactics to interfere with laws and evidence-based information that would curb the consumption of tobacco. Their interference occurs at several levels, aimed at multiple stakeholders including manufacturers, advertisers, public relations companies, government officials with tobacco industry stocks, and lobbyists.

It is time for the government to

  1. protect the people from this deadly industry that seeks nothing but to destroy lives and harm the planet in service of its profits,
  2. protect us from the industry’s long decade’s attempts to deceive the public and their recent false claim of “harm-reduction” and a “smoke-free future” even as it continues marketing cigarettes to young people and children everywhere
  3. earmark a percentage of the tobacco tax to finance health and development project
  4. legislate to review the excise duty Act recently passed by Parliament to disallow taxing electronic cigarette and to render it illicit in Ghana
  5. develop code of conduct to guide the conducts of public officials in order to avoid conflict of interest when dealing with the tobacco industry and their front groups

It is the time of the year again that VALD-Ghana together with like-minded stakeholders urges our government to prioritize food production over tobacco and its related products. Public health on any occasion must be prioritized above all else.


Labram Musah

Executive Director: Vision for Alternative Development

National Coordinator: Ghana NCD Alliance

[email protected]


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