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

By Lianne E. Jacobs, MPH

It comes as no surprise that smoking tobacco is the leading preventable cause of early disease and death in the United States given the known detrimental health impacts of smoking. We know smoking kills more than 8 million people every year, with more than 1 million dying from second-hand smoke exposure. But have you ever stopped to think about the impacts of growing tobacco, rather than smoking it? This World No Tobacco Day, the World Health Organization (WHO) is focusing on tobacco farmers.

World No Tobacco Day is an annual awareness campaign established by the WHO to raise awareness of the harmful and deadly effects of tobacco use on our health, as well as to “inform the public about the dangers of using tobacco, the business practices of tobacco companies, what WHO is doing to fight the tobacco epidemic, and what people around the world can do to claim their right to health and healthy living and to protect future generations.”

This year’s theme, “We need food, not tobacco” is aimed at raising awareness about the growing of tobacco and how it contributes to increased food insecurity. The campaign aims to encourage tobacco farmers to pivot to alternative crop production and grow sustainable, nutrition crops rather than growing tobacco. According to the WHO, 3.6 million hectares of land are converted for tobacco growing each year and contributes to high levels of deforestation around the globe. Once land is converted for tobacco growth, which requires heavy pesticide and fertilizer use, the depleted soil then has a lower ability to grow other crops. Tobacco farming contributes to low sustainable food production, particularly in middle- and low-income countries, and the WHO hopes to draw attention to the urgent need to take legal measures to reduce tobacco farming and help farmers grow alternative crops, such as encouraging government to end subsidies for tobacco growing and use savings for crop substitution programs.

It is possible for tobacco farmers to make the switch to alternative crops. With support from the WHO and other international food and agricultural organizations, hundreds of farmers in Kenya’s southwest Migori county have moved away from farming tobacco. Hear their powerful stories here and here. To participate in this year’s World No Tobacco Day events and to learn about what you can do to help support the campaign, click here.

Are you struggling with tobacco cessation?

There are both immediate and long-term health benefits of quitting smoking, regardless of how long you have been a smoker. Quitting smoking lowers your heart rate and blood pressure, improves circulation and lung function, reduces your risk of coronary heart disease and stroke, as well as your risk of lung cancer, and cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, bladder, cervix and pancreas. Quitting smoking also extends life expectancy. Because being tobacco-free is essential for good health, Vitality rewards members who do not smoke. Members can earn Vitality Points for submitting a negative result from a cotinine screening. For those individuals who test positive for cotinine, members automatically qualify for an eight-week quit-smoking program called Living Smoke Free and can earn rewards upon successful completion of the program.

Lianne Jacobs - Vitality
Lianne E. Jacobs, MPH, Health Communications Strategist, has a master’s degree in public health from Yale University. She is the only indoor cycling instructor who can’t ride a bike. She enjoys traveling the world, laughing at her own jokes, changing diapers, and tricking her husband into eating baked goods made with hidden vegetables.

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