5 startling impacts the tobacco industry is having worldwide

11 June 2018

From exacerbating poverty to environmental degradation, the tobacco industry has some astoundingly negative impacts on our planet's people and landscapes. We look at some of the most startling impacts so you can consider whether you want to invest in this industrybecause your super fund could be. 

Tobacco kills more than 7 million people every single year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates. The tobacco industry exploits child labour in some of the world's poorest countries, severely impacts indigenous populations and contributes to the destruction of our precious forests.

And your Australian super fund might be investing in tobacco, which means you could be, too. Let's dive deeper into some of the most startling impacts the industry is having, and explore why Aussie super funds shouldn't invest in tobacco.

Your Australian super fund should not be investing in tobacco.

1. Tobacco is the single most important preventable cause of ill health and death in Australia

Yep, that's right. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare pinpoints tobacco as one of the primary causes of disease and mortality Down Under. Tobacco has been linked to conditions ranging from cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes, to female reproductive issues.

And, while you may think it's only smokers who experience tobacco's harmful effects, non-smokers who find themselves exposed to tobacco smoke also suffer. WHO reveals that second-hand smoke causes:

  • over 890,000 premature deaths every year
  • serious cardiovascular and respiratory diseases in adults, including lung cancer and coronary heart disease
  • low birth weight in pregnant women.

2. The tobacco industry supports child labour

Tobacco is listed by the US Department of Labor as a good produced by child labour in a total of 16 countries around the world, including Argentina, Cambodia, Mexico and the Philippines. Global charity Plan International has conducted extensive work trying to protect children in Malawi (another country on the Department of Labor's list) from exploitation by the tobacco industry. 

Plan International found that the need for tobacco companies to keep costs low was contributing to their use of child labour in Malawi. This situation, when combined with the fact that Malawi is one of the world's poorest nations, has created conditions in which the exploitation of children for profit is rampant. 

Child labour is rife in Malawi's tobacco industry as global tobacco corporations seek to minimise costs and maximise profit.

3. Tobacco growing and curing is a direct cause of deforestation

The tobacco industry is also having devastating environmental impacts. Degradation carried out by tobacco companies in places such as Argentina, Bangladesh and Brazil has contributed to a loss of biodiversity, while tobacco growing and curing is a direct cause of deforestation in these countries, according to WHO.

These disastrous environmental consequences are occurring due to the industry's need for wood; tobacco companies require 11.4 million metric tonnes of wood every single year for the purpose of tobacco curing. 

4. Tobacco exacerbates poverty

The tobacco industry also aggravates poverty for those living in developing countries where tobacco farming is carried out. As the WHO points out, land used for growing tobacco diverts land that could otherwise be used to grow food to nourish populations suffering from food insecurity. 

In addition, tobacco farmers are paid low incomes, have to deal with high land rents (particularly in Bangladesh and Malawi), and experience high healthcare costs due to the health problems created by working with tobacco. As WHO sums up, "Dependency and high levels of external control create unequal bargaining power between smallholders and transnational tobacco companies." It's a cycle of exploitation that benefits giant corporations and takes advantage of tobacco farmers. 

5. Tobacco has adverse effects on indigenous populations

There are particular groups that tobacco affects more severely than others, and indigenous populations often draw the short straw. The Maori Affairs Committee conducted an inquiry into the tobacco industry in New Zealand and discovered that tobacco adversely affects the health of Maori populations.

Tobacco smoking is a leading cause of preventable death for New Zealand Maori populations.

The Committee found smoking to be a major issue for Maori health, equity, economic status and cultural identity as a result of smoking rates being double the New Zealand European rate. This supports findings of the Cancer Society NZ, which acknowledges that tobacco smoking is a leading cause of preventable death for New Zealand Maori populations, and contributes towards a marked difference in health between Maori and non-Maori populations in our neighbour across the Tasman.

Our own indigenous population is also suffering; the smoking rate among Australia's indigenous Aboriginal people is 39.7 per centmore than double the rate for non-Aboriginal populations, according to NSW Health.

You can make a difference 

Considering all of these impacts the tobacco industry is having, would you really want to support it? A lot of companies do, and if your superannuation fund is investing in them, then you could be supporting the industry.

Local Government Super refuses to invest in companies that support the tobacco industry, and we're proud partners of Tobacco Free Portfolios, a not-for-profit that aims to inform, prioritise and advance tobacco free investment by eliminating tobacco from investment portfolios across the globe.

Stop supporting an industry that is inflicting rampant devastation upon our planet's environment and the people who inhabit it, and make the switch to an ethical super fund today.

Lifestyle, Sustainability


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