Zimbabwe has ratified the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) in a development that is going to strengthen the country's voice on world tobacco control matters.
The Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board chief executive Andrew Matibiri confirmed to Xinhua Wednesday that President Robert Mugabe acceded to the treaty on July 16 this year.
The overall aim of the legally binding international treaty, which came into force in 2005, is to reduce world tobacco consumption and production.
Zimbabwe, a major tobacco producer whose economy heavily relies on the crop for foreign currency earnings, sees the treaty as a positive development for its tobacco industry.
Matibiri said the agreement would give Zimbabwe the opportunity, as a party to the treaty, to voice its concerns as opposed to the situation where its voice was not being heard as a non-member. "The meaning of this is that we are now part of the Convention in that whatever decision they make, we will be involved," Matibiri said.
He said he did not see an immediate impact on Zimbabwe' tobacco production from the treaty's measures, noting that most of the measures concerned smoking countries more than producing countries.
Among its obligations, the treaty commits countries to ban or restrict tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship and to place large graphic health warnings on cigarette packs.
Zimbabwe manufactures cigarettes from just about two percent of the tobacco crop it produces, and thus sees measures on tobacco advertising as not having any major impact on the cigar making companies.
To date, 176 countries have signed and ratified the WHO FCTC. The treaty also commits members to implement measures to protect non-smokers from second hand smoke, increase the price of tobacco products to discourage its use, eliminate the illicit trade of tobacco products as well as regulate the content of tobacco products and require public disclosure of ingredients.
It also proposes that governments should assist tobacco producers, assuming that they will be under long term impacts with the reduction in demand for tobacco.
He said Zimbabwe, whose FCTC efforts are led by the Ministry of Health, will participate in the Convention's meetings not necessarily to fight anybody but to highlight the crop's strategic importance to the country.
"We will be articulating the other side of the story which is that our country is still very much dependent on tobacco and that for as long as there is no alternative, our farmers should be allowed to grow the crop."
He said Zimbabwe's tobacco industry did not have a conflicting relationship with the Ministry of Health as both understood each other's concerns. "We cooperate with the Ministry of Health. As an industry, we appreciate their concerns on the health side and they also appreciate the benefits of tobacco to the economy," he said.
Tobacco plays a significant role in Zimbabwe's economy, accounting for 10.7 percent of gross domestic product.
The country produced 213 million kg of the crop worth 676 million U.S. dollars this year, up from 166 million kg last year.
About 98 percent of the tobacco grown in the country is exported while about 17 percent of the local workforce is employed in the sector.
An estimated 300,000 people are directly employed in the production of tobacco while another 1.5 million of the country's 13 million people are indirectly employed by the sector.
The accession by Zimbabwe comes ahead of the Conference of Parties (CoP) 6 meeting scheduled for Russia in October this year where various proposals seen by farmers as detrimental to the production of the crop will be discussed.
Zimbabwe will, however, not be a full member of the CoP 6 meeting as it is still to complete the processes required for it to become a full member.
To become a party to the Protocol, parties to the WHO FCTC that have signed need to deposit an instrument of ratification or approval with the secretary general of the United Nations at the Headquarters in New York and Zimbabwe is yet to do that.
After depositing the instrument of ratification, a 90-day period has to lapse before the country becomes a full member.
In pushing for tobacco control under the FCTC, the World Health Organization argues that tobacco is killing more people, nearly six million per year and that more than five million of those deaths are the result of direct tobacco use while more than 600, 000 are the result of non-smokers being exposed to second hand smoke.
It warns that unless urgent action is taken, the annual death toll could rise to more than eight million by 2030.