Notes & Comments – Tobacco – its continued globalisation and effects

2 The Review of Religions – June 2005 Tobacco is the second major cause of death in the world. It is responsible for the deaths of 1 in every 10 adults worldwide, amounting to 5 million people a y e a ri if smoking patterns continue.ii This number is likely to double in the next 10 years. It is to offset this pattern that the world’s first global health treaty came into force on 27 February 2005. Formally known as the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), it is the first legal instrument designed to reduce tobacco-related deaths and disease around the world it has been signed by 168 countries and ratified by 57 of them. U n f o r t u n a t e l y, some of the richest nations, including the US, have not signed the treaty. The demands made by the treaty are health warnings on cigarette packets to cover 30% of the packet and bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship. Although smoking has not been directly outlawed in the Holy Qur’an, the treaty is a step towards following the Q u r’anic injunctions to enjoin good and forbid evil and to hasten to vie with one another in good works (Ch.3:V.115). M o r e o v e r, it is not only the health costs which have spurred on this global treaty. Economic costs of tobacco use are equally devastating. For example, the World Bank estimates that high- income countries spend currently between 6% and 15% of their total health-care costs to treat tobacco-related diseases. In addition to the high public health costs of treating tobacco-caused diseases, tobacco kills people at the height of their productivity, depriving families of bread- Co m m e n t s &Notes Tobacco – its continued globalisation and effects 3The Review of Religions – June 2005 winners and nations of a healthy workforce. Due to increased sickness, tobacco users are also less productive while they are alive. For example, although Canada gains $3 billion annually from tobacco, tobacco’s costs – including physicians’ services, hospital bills, drugs and administrative services come to $2.4 billion. To this another $1.5 billion can be added for the loss of productivity caused by smoking-related health diseases. So, leaving aside environmental costs, the tobacco industry causes Canada a loss of almost $1 billion annually.iii H o w e v e r, in recent years as Western nations and people have become increasingly aware of the health, social and economic problems of smoking and enforce stricter regulations, the tobacco industry is increasingly looking to the East in the search for new markets. The tobacco industry has laid a firm grip on Developing World markets – with governments playing an active role in the promotion of the industry, as well as on Developing World minds – where 84% of the world’s 1.8 billion smokers live. iv Due to the immaturity of economies and the health sector in poorer countries, the effects on less developed societies are more serious. In Egypt, annual costs of treating diseases caused by tobacco use have been estimated at US$545.5 million and in China health costs of smoking were estimated at US$6.5 billion per y e a r.v This diverts scarce resources away from other much needed sectors such as education and infrastructural development. Studies across all the regions in the world show that it is the poorest people who tend to smoke the most in both developing and developed countries, and who bear most of the disease burden. In poorest households in some low-income countries as much as 10% of total household expenditure is on tobacco. This means that these families have less money to spend on basic items such as food, education and health NOTES AND COMMENTS Not only is tobacco linked to poverty, but it also has a bearing on development. Researchers working in parts of Africa have shown the effect which growing tobacco has on the physical environment. Tobacco has been referred to as the ‘greedy weed’viii for it depletes the soil of its nutrients taking up to 3 years for it to regenerate. During this time the land lies fallow unable to support any food crop. Thus, what we see is that after years of social relaxation in the name of freedom of choice, there is an explicit acknowledgment that the liberty much sought after is not as sweet as once thought. The problems which tobacco has caused are global in magnitude and as such the solutions should also be global. The treaty is a step in the right direction towards fulfilling this objective, and in accordance with Islamic teachings, does not outlaw smoking, but rather through increasing awareness to the dangers of smoking on the health, social, economic and environmental well-being of society, people are given more knowledge on which to base their personal choices. By Maidah Ahmad – Canada References i WHO, ‘Why is tobacco a public health priority?’, WHO, ty/en/, Last accessed 18/04/2005. ii ibid iii John Madeley, ‘Agribusiness: Burnt fingers, Tobacco’s balance sheet’, New Internationalist, Issue 167, January 1987. iv Nick Triggle, ‘Smoking gets own ‘Kyoto treaty’, BBC News, Sunday 27 February 2005. v WHO, ‘Why is tobacco a public health priority?’, WHO, ty/en/. vi WHO, ‘The World Health Organization says that tobacco is bad economics all around’, viii New Internationalist, ‘The greedy weed’, New Internationalist, Issue 107, January 1982. 4 NOTES AND COMMENTS The Review of Religions – June 2005