World No Tobacco Day 2023: Asians need food, not tobacco

Asia cannot afford to ignore the devastating impact of tobacco on individuals and societies. Tobacco kills eight million people in the world every year, and in ASEAN, more than half a million people annually. Tobacco is an obstacle to achieving the sustainable development goals of ending poverty, achieving food security, and ensuring good health and well-being for all. This World No Tobacco Day, we stand united with the global community in calling for more food and an end to tobacco. 

Contrary to tobacco industry claims, tobacco farming is not profitable for smallholder farmers. In reality, it traps them in poverty, through exploitative loan contracts with tobacco companies and unfairly low leaf prices set by tobacco leaf buyers. Extremely labor intensive, tobacco farming requires long work hours and unpaid labor by farmers’ spouses and children.  Furthermore, tobacco farmers face additional health risks, such as  green tobacco sickness, a form of nicotine poisoning. 

The environmental impact of tobacco cultivation is equally negative. The tobacco industry cuts 600 million trees annually to make cigarettes. Growing tobacco not only strips the land of essential nutrients, rendering it unable to support growth of other crops, but also requires extensive chemical fertilizers and pesticides that pollute ecosystems. In ASEAN alone, about 325,000 hectares of valuable agricultural land to grow tobacco could be dedicated to growing more sustainable, more profitable, and healthier food crops instead. 

Studies in various countries have shown that transitioning away from tobacco farming can lead to increased incomes for farmers. In Indonesia, a World Bank study discovered that tobacco farmers were spending more money than they derive from growing tobacco. Former Indonesian tobacco farmers reported a 69% increase in their income when they shifted to other crops. Similarly, farmers in the Philippines preferred to grow vegetables such as tomato, garlic, eggplant, and peppers because these require less labor and farming inputs but yield more profits than tobacco. In Cambodia, 40% of tobacco farmers also switched to alternative crops such as rice, corn, peanuts, and soybeans. 

Article 17 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control requires governments to assist tobacco farmers to shift to more economically viable livelihoods. 

“People need food for nourishment and survival, enabling us to live healthy and happy lives. The world does not need tobacco that only harms and kills people and our planet. Governments must empower tobacco farmers to shift to food crops that will generate higher income while protecting themselves and the environment,” stated SEATCA Executive Director, Dr Ulysses Dorotheo. 

Contact Information:  

Val Bugnot, Media and Communications Manager, SEATCA  
Mobile: +639173124600 

Relevant Links

  1. World No Tobacco Day 2023
  2. Tobacco and its environmental impact: an overview
  3. Tobacco Control Atlas: ASEAN Region, Fifth Edition  


SEATCA is a multi-sectoral non-governmental alliance promoting health and saving lives by assisting ASEAN countries to accelerate and effectively implement the tobacco control measures contained in the WHO FCTC. Acknowledged by governments, academic institutions, and civil society for its advancement of tobacco control in Southeast Asia, the WHO bestowed on SEATCA the World No Tobacco Day Award in 2004 and the WHO Director-General’s Special Recognition Award in 2014.


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