Letter of the Day | Disingenuous tree planting
THE EDITOR, Madam:
We note the article on May 24 in The Gleaner reporting that the tobacco company was supporting the Government’s tree-planting project on Labour Day. The article quoted the tobacco company as saying:
“Not only does the initiative assist us in executing our environment sustainability (ESG) mandate, it also allows us to play our part in helping the Government prioritise the protection and sustainability of our environment.”
This is a very disingenuous statement, to say the least. The fact is that around 3.5 million hectares of land globally are destroyed for tobacco growing each year. Growing tobacco contributes to deforestation, especially in the developing world. Deforestation for tobacco plantations promotes soil degradation and “failing yields or the capacity for the land to support the growth of any other crops or vegetation” (World Health Organization (WHO), 2021).
It was also stated that the tree-planting exercise gave the tobacco company an opportunity to play their part in helping the Government prioritise the protection and sustainability of the environment, noting the relationship to Goal 4 of Jamaica’s Vision 2030 plan. This ‘initiative’ was in partnership with the Forestry Department (a government agency).
Jamaica, along with 182 countries, is party to the WHO tobacco control treaty (FCTC), which specifically addresses the matter of governments partnering with the tobacco industry. The objective of the FCTC is to protect present and future generations from the devastating health, social, environmental and economic consequences of tobacco consumption and exposure to tobacco smoke. Article 5.3 requires parties to protect tobacco control policies from the commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry. Government-tobacco industry interactions must be limited to those necessary for effective regulation. This ‘initiative’ does not fall into this category and, therefore, would constitute a breach of Article 5.3.
It is no coincidence that this ‘initiative’ comes against the background that the WHO World No Tobacco Day 2022 (May 31) theme is ‘Tobacco: Threat to our environment’, which aims to raise awareness among the public on the environmental impact of tobacco. The WHO-led campaign further aims to expose the tobacco industry’s effort to greenwash its reputation and products by marketing themselves as environmentally friendly. A tobacco company’s gesture to give back to the community by planting trees is a typical example of what the WHO warns against, and why comprehensive tobacco control legislation addresses the issue of so-called corporate social responsibility by the tobacco industry. Rather than allowed to be perceived by the public as good corporate citizens, the tobacco industry should be held accountable for their part in the environmental destruction, in addition to the health impact and costs associated with the use of their deadly product.
The Jamaica Coalition for Tobacco Control is looking forward to the speedy implementation of comprehensive tobacco control legislation now being deliberated by a joint select committee of Parliament. This legislation will, among other things, ban the tobacco industry from so-called corporate social responsibility activities, such as the above, which is intended to deflect from the fact that their product harms the environment and kills when used exactly as is intended.
DR AGGREY IRONS
Jamaica Coalition for Tobacco