The Common Market for Eastern and Southern African (Comesa) is against the World Health Organisation’s actions to prohibit particular ingredients that are used in manufacturing blended tobacco.
These ingredients are produced in specially designed laboratories ranging from sugars, sweeteners and such flavors as vanillin and menthol that are used to improve the palatability of tobacco products.
For example Burnley is a popular tobacco type in British American Tobacco markets, which is the most grown tobacco type in the Comesa region, mainly in eastern and southern African countries of Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe and which requires blending procedure.
The majority of scientists state that smoke from burley tobacco has an unpleasant taste during curing, requiring use of such ingredients as menthol, glucose and ginger or blending it with other types to soften its harsh taste.
A prohibit on the production of blending compounds would mean a loss of market for Comesa grown tobacco, and a significant loss for farmers.
At the recently conducted summit of Comesa in Swaziland, participating countries decided to solicit the UN at the forthcoming UN General Assembly to examine the Millennium Development Goals in New York (MDG).
The economic bloc declared that the WHO and other international agencies try to perpetuate poverty in Africa, bringing health arguments into order to cut down its product – in this case tobacco out from the world market.
It is expected that the bigger economies of bloc as for example Libya, Egypt and Kenya, despite not being the largest manufacturers of tobacco, will try to influence the WHO to change this ban.
The WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) proposed to implement a ban on laboratory-produced tobacco ingredients, according to the guidelines 9 and 10.
For the majority of Comesa members who are fighting to get rid of poverty through agriculture, adopting the WHO guidelines would mean a big loss for many tobacco growers who haven’t another alternative, and consequently a deterioration of national economies.
Poverty reduction is the main task of MDGs and no continent is more affected by poverty than Africa.
“I think that it is a very thrilling situation for many countries, considering the fact that 19 Comesa countries have united to oppose the WHO decision,” stated Francois van der Merwe, chairman of the African chapter of the International Tobacco Growers Association.
The big problem in this situation is that WHO officials in Geneva don’t understand how important the tobacco industry is to many African countries and what unpleasant consequences this ban will have for many of these countries.
For example in Malawi, 70 % of the population gains on its livelihood from the tobacco industry, with 700,000 farmers occupying with tobacco cultivation.