Health Vs Wealth: The Case Of Tobacco Control In Zambia

Health Vs Wealth: The Case Of Tobacco Control In Zambia

There is no amount of money that can be equated to human life. Every year tobacco use kills 7,142 Zambians. But these lives lost prematurely appear to be just collateral loss in sustaining a business.


While tobacco merchants are advancing the argument that tobacco production is more profitable than cotton and maize to farmers and the economy, the bottom line is that tobacco is harmful to health as encrypted on cigarette packets.


While all Government Ministries undoubtedly face tough resourcing and implementation decision to achieve Zambia’s ambitious development agenda, Tobacco and Nicotine Products Inhalant Control Bill offers opportunity to rethink the way we tackle health and development challenges.  Zambia ratified the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) in May 2008 and is obligated to implemented measures that protect public health such as reducing tobacco use, its production and cigarette accessibility, especially for children, youths and vulnerable population.


Nonetheless, the push to pass bills into law on tobacco control among African countries like Zambia has not been an easy one mainly because of sustained interference by tobacco merchants who peddle profitability agenda.


In Kenya and Namibia for instance, it took over 13 years for their tobacco control bills to be approved by Parliament, delays largely attributed to tobacco industry interference.


In Nigeria and Uganda also, British American Tobacco (BAT) was extremely active in opposing tobacco control legislation with well documented evidence of their interference in the parliamentary process of tabling their tobacco control bills.


We must not let the same problems play out in Zambia. All government actors must reject interference of tobacco companies in the contexts and progress and take quick action to protect Tobacco and Nicotine Products Inhalant Control Bill from tobacco industry interference.


Evidence of substantial health and economic benefits of tobacco control is already available in the Ministry of Health’s Investment Case for Tobacco Control in Zambia. The Investment Case found:

  • Each year, tobacco costs the Zambian economy K2.8 billion (1.2% of GDP)
  • If Zambia fully implements and enforces the tobacco control bill, the country can save K12.4 billion and the Government will be responsible for saving 40,349 lives over 15 years.


Despite this win-win economic and health benefits, several criticisms and arguments against elements of the Tobacco and Nicotine Products Inhalant Control Bill have emerged.


Many of these criticisms and arguments are arguments routinely used by tobacco companies as a delay tactic against tobacco control legislation across the world.


Tobacco companies continue to promote their lethal product and attempt to circumvent or prevent development and implementation of effective tobacco control policies in Zambia. Policy makers should review the evidence-based information presented to them which address various myths and misinformation from tobacco industry.


The fact remains that smoking kills more than half of all life-long users and tobacco control policies outlined in the national Tobacco and Nicotine Products Inhalant Control Bill will save Zambian lives.


When governments implement effective tobacco control policies which increases taxes on tobacco products, restricting smoking in public places among many other measures, tobacco smoking declines.


More quitting and less initiation of tobacco use contribute to greater individual and societal well-being and successful tobacco control also limit the financial health of tobacco companies. Consequently, tobacco companies act in their own interest, for example, by aggressively lobbying and litigating against government tobacco control policies, among other tactics.


In its zeal to promote tobacco use, tobacco industry regularly perpetrates unethical, and often unlawful, interference with life-saving tobacco control policies.


Although tobacco companies compete for market shares, they often join forces to counter government tobacco control efforts or support front groups to voice their message for them.


The negative impact of giant tobacco companies on public health policy led member states of the World Health Assembly in May 2001 to pass Resolution 54:18, “Transparency in Tobacco Control Process,” which urges countries to disclose any ties between delegates and the tobacco industry, and authorizes the WHO to monitor the activities of tobacco companies.


Zambia, a major tobacco growing country, and a Party to WHO-FCTC faces numerous challenges in developing and implementing its tobacco control policies. Global tobacco giants operating in Zambia, i.e. British American Tobacco (BAT), Phillip Morris International (PMI) and Japan Tobacco International (JTI) have used their political influence to arm twist government to defeat strong tobacco control regulation.

While the tobacco industry does not take responsibility for the lives lost due to use of its products, it is escalating activity to undermine tobacco control activities at national level.

To deter the tobacco industry maneuvers, effective implementation of Article 5.3 of the FCTC through aligning the national Tobacco and Nicotine Products Inhalant Control Bill to it, remains critical.

The tobacco industry’s narrative suggests that growing tobacco leaf provides a good living for thousands of Zambian farmers.  The results of a major survey of a nationally-representative sample of small-scale tobacco farmers and follow-up focus groups in 2014-16 unequivocally demonstrate the opposite scenario: most tobacco farmers consistently have unfavorable economic circumstances.

The Ministry of Health should step up its efforts and increase health promotions and awareness programmes in communities, in collaboration with line Ministries to earnestly speed up the Tobacco and Nicotine Products Inhalant Control Bill process which has been dormant for almost 10 years, to serve the population and especially the young generation who are a target to tobacco industry as their present and future customers.

We also urge the lawmakers and civic leaders to support tobacco control in many forums to protect its citizens as tobacco is a deadly product which should not be entertained at all cost.

Big tobacco scrambles for Zambia’s young

Smoking among adolescents about 25% and children are exposed to tobacco advertising and promotions. Schools are being targeted for marketing tobacco products and initiating pupils into the habit of smoking cigarettes and shisha, reveals a survey dubbed ‘Big Tobacco, Tiny Targets’.


BAT, PMI and JTI control the cigarette market share in Zambia. With declining sales in their home countries of the U.K. and Japan respectively, Zambia is an attractive market for both companies to grow their profits. Zambia’s young population are their target.

The bulk of JTI’s profits now come from outside Japan. A JTI Executive Vice-President had previously highlighted the importance of Africa to its business and aimed at ‘gaining a foothold’ in this ‘very energetic and growing market.’ JTI’s brands are now sold in more than 20 African countries.

JTI has stepped up its corporate visibility through its targeted corporate social responsibility (CSR) programmes. To gain goodwill with students, in March 2018, JTI sponsored a moot court competition for law students from selected universities. Judicial staff also participated as judges in the competition, thereby bringing this important legal institution into contact with the sponsorship.

JTI also sponsors CSRs programme among tobacco growers aimed at addressing child labour, however the problem persists and JTI continues to use leaves produced with child labour to makes its cigarettes.

BAT runs a global internship competition called “Battle of minds” that is open to young people across the globe. Through this competition it gets to engage directly with young people and advertise its activities.

For PMI, the firm runs some activities standing on its peddled messages that: “We are Philip Morris International (PMI), a leading tobacco company, and we are committed to designing a smoke-free future.” We wonder how a tobacco company can honestly strive for a smoke-free future.


Most farmers (3/4) are on contract.

▪ Tobacco is arguably the most labour-intensive crop in Zambia— with the median tobacco farming household expending nearly 4000 hours to produce one acre” (this excludes day labourers for the most intensive tasks such as harvesting).

▪ When household labour is included in the profit calculation, almost all farmers are operating at a substantial loss.

▪ Most contract farmers report being stuck in a debt cycle— growing tobacco only to pay back the previous year’s debt to the leaf-buying companies.

▪ The hundreds of hours spent on tobacco farming are precious time that farmers cannot spend on other economic activities, education, or leisure.

If tobacco-based livelihoods are so challenging, why do farmers grow tobacco leaf (particularly under contract)?

▪ The perception of a ready market for the leaf (i.e., farmers know they have a buyer even if the price is poor).

▪ Access to credit through contracting. Contract farmers do not pay in advance for their inputs, many independent farmers report difficulties borrowing money.

▪ Perception of its viability as a crop – Most farmers do not receive access to training to grow other crops, particularly food crops.

▪ Access to cash –  Subsistence farming generates little cash, and farmers need cash for expenses on (e.g. healthcare and education); and tobacco farming is more likely to generate cash.

What can be done to help tobacco farmers?

▪ Employ a multi-sectorial approach to address the key issues.

▪ Help develop markets for other products (Trade, Industry and Commerce).

▪ Help farmers to access credit (Development and Finance).

▪ Increase efforts of agricultural extension services to maximize other crops (Agriculture).

▪ Farmers should be paid better prices for the leaves they produce.

▪ Ban child labour in tobacco growing. Charge tobacco companies a levy which can be used to address child labour rather than depend on ineffective CSR activities.

▪  Above all, challenge the inaccurate narrative that small-holder tobacco farming is lucrative.

Part of a bigger problem

While tobacco companies claim to provide economic benefits through taxes, this report only scratches the surface and provides a snapshot of what is certainly a bigger problem.

Foreign tobacco companies earn huge profits because the cost of production of cigarettes is miniscule. They are provided with protection under the armpit of foreign investment. For this reason, these companies shift the production of cigarettes to low income countries such as Zambia.

Plea to the Government

  1. Enact a Tobacco and Nicotine Products Inhalant Control Bill in its current WHO-FCTC compliant form to avoid diminishing the positive impact for health in Zambia.
  2. Protect public health through stronger regulations on tobacco such as banning advertising, promotions and sponsorship of tobacco.
  3. Protect children and prevent new smokers by applying prominent health warnings on all tobacco packages.
  4. Ban the sale of cigarettes by single sticks and small packs to reduce accessibility to children.
  5. Increase tax on tobacco to be spent on essential public services such as health, education and social welfare. A portion of the tax can pay for public education campaign on the harms of smoking and scholarships for children.
  6. Provide assistance to tobacco growers who want to shift to other crops and activities.


Break the cycle of sickness and death

  • Support for the Tobacco and Nicotine Products Inhalant Control Bill across Zambia citizens, recognizing the mutual benefits to health, economy and society.
  • Foreign tobacco companies reap the most profits. The poor who smoke and new addicts recruited among children ensure continued profits for the companies. The companies leave the dead behind for the families to bury. Tobacco farmers remain trapped in the cycle of poverty. The government picks up the tab for treating the sick.
  • During this year’s World No Tobacco Day themed: “Tobacco and Lung Health”, the Minister of Health Dr Chitalu Chilufya speech clearly spelt out strategic interventions to reduce dangers and risk factors to communicable and non-communicable diseases. He acknowledges tobacco as the single most preventable leading cause of deaths in the world, leading to chronic diseases such as cancer, heart diseases, respiratory diseases, diabetes, mouth and skin infections.
  • He notes that tobacco control is not only a health but a developmental issue requiring concerted efforts and multi-sectoral response.
  • Permanent Secretary Dr Malama echoed: “I do not find any advantage in [tobacco] smoking really.”

It is a tragedy to allow so many thousands of people to pay the collateral just to a few companies that keep earning big profits. Protecting public health and saving lives should be our priority through the enactment of the Tobacco and Nicotine Products Inhalant Control Bill.


Name: Brenda Chitindi

Position: Executive Director

Organization: Tobacco – Free Association of Zambia

Mobile: +260979441781