Tobacco as the “Harmful Evil Leaf of Death” than “Profitable Copper Leaf”: Talking FCTC in Zambia

By Chris Zumani Zimba

  1. Introduction: Talking WHO FCTC in Zambia

indeX TOBACCO.jpgBy conceptual definition, the World Health Organization (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) was specifically designed to address and eradicate the growing public health challenge of the globalization of the tobacco epidemic1. As tobacco kills more than 7 million people annually worldwide, the FCTC is the first treaty negotiated under the auspices of the WHO. The Convention entered into force on 27 February 2005 – exactly 90 days after it was acceded to, ratified or approved by 40 States. As Zambia ratified the WHO FCTC in 2008 and became a Party to the historical global health treaty that has speedily been ratified by more than 180 countries today, the SADC state is therefore obligated to legislate and implement comprehensive tobacco control laws and regulations in order to reduce and control the threat of a tobacco epidemic in the country.

Thus, Zambia is anticipated to legislature and enforce tobacco control regulations and measures such as use of large pictorial health warnings on tobacco packs or billboards, bans on smoking in public places, bans on tobacco advertising and promotions or upward increases in tobacco taxes and prices among many other controls as prescribed by the FCTC. While majority Zambians oppose tobacco and smoking on moral and religious grounds, the WHO FCTC has delayed to be domesticated to date chiefly because, there are never ending debates between those who praise tobacco as the “Profitable Copper Leaf” and those who denounce it as the “Harmful Evil Leaf of Death”. This article presents a critical comparison of the two arguments as well as brutal professional analysis on both sides of the debate before concluding by calling upon you as a reader to act for humanity and do something based an informed position.

  1. Tobacco as the “Profitable Copper Leaf” and huge money-making business venture

Across the world, tobacco companies are making huge and abnormal profits by buying, manufacturing and selling tobacco and nicotine products. To sustain their huge profiting businesses especially in Africa where tobacco control public policies and laws are either weak or poorly enforced, the industry is stubbornly praising tobacco by manipulating innocent citizens with many true as well as ‘doctored’ economic and material benefits such as the following:

  1. Tobacco is 7 times more profitable per hectare compared to maize and is 14 times more profitable per hectare than cotton2;
  2. As such, tobacco is the “Profitable Copper Leaf” of the agricultural sector in terms of cash crop profitability among farmers2;
  3. Tobacco is a huge economic pillar and GDP determinant for many African states such as Tanzania, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique or Uganda as the tobacco value chain employ more than 1,800,000 in Malawi, more than 140,000 in Mozambique, 1,450,000 in Tanzania, between 6800 in 2000, close to 500,000 in Zambia as well as to more than 2,000,000 in Zimbabwe between 2011 and 20173; and
  4. Tobacco farming is a profitable economic livelihood for many Africans and Zambians who have been empowered to become financially and materially rich, able to pay health, education and daily bills of their households apart from buying assets and livestock4.

Of course, there are no false arguments or religious pretense on the profitability of both tobacco farming, processing and trade except on many occasions, the industry rationally tries to mislead everyone by overpraising the cash crop and its economic benefits as well as undermining or ignoring the harmful effects and evil face of the “Copper Leaf” when they cunningly colour everything beautifully white to our people.

  1. Tobacco killing half of its users, depriving families and destroying the environment

Because they are in profit making business, the industry will never acknowledge and tell you the truth on multiple existing health hazards, social ills, economic costs and environmental harm tobacco and smoking causes to us and our environment. Following empirical research done by World Health Organization (WHO) and other credible scholars as well as institutions, below are some evidence as to why tobacco could and must be treated as “harmful evil leaf of death”:

  1. The tobacco epidemic is one of the biggest public health threats the world has ever faced;
  2. Tobacco kills 50% of its long term users i.e. tobacco users die prematurely by halving their lifespan5;
  3. Annually, tobacco kills more than 7 million people worldwide and 80% of these live in poor countries5;
  4. More than 6 million of the 7 annual deaths are the result of direct tobacco use while around 900, 000 are as the result of non-smokers, second-hand smoking5;
  5. Tobacco users who die prematurely deprive their families in terms of income, earthly companionship and social-cultural mentorship especially young ones5;
  6. Tobacco is speedily raising the annual health care expenditure at national, regional and international level on the disease burden treatment and premature mortality costs6;
  7. Premature tobacco related deaths hinder national, regional and global economic development as many die still very productive and energetic as well as at the peak of their careers6;
  8. Tobacco farming everywhere is harmful not only to the farmers themselves, but also to the environment as it speedily promotes deforestation, ‘desert status’ as well as soil erosion among other forms of environmental degradations7;
  9. Tobacco farming is mostly done via contract farming with tobacco companies and who supply all inputs and guarantee market. But generally, most tobacco growers in Zambia especially small and medium farmers have confessed being highly exploited7;
  10. Most long term tobacco farmers in rural Zambia are still poor as tobacco farming has very high costs while the opportunity costs of farming tobacco are very high and thereby perpetuating poverty7; and
  11. Above 60% of Zambian tobacco are willing to stop and migrate to alternative economically viable livelihoods as many are trapped into perpetual contractual debt cycles to their industry masters7;
  1. Conclusion

Based on the aforesaid facts, it is very vividly clear that what is praised and called as the “Profitable Copper Leaf” by multinational tobacco companies and some farmers in Africa as well as Zambia is not as profitable as presented but remain highly harmful and deadly both to the farmers themselves, smokers as well as indirect smokers apart from its negative impact on the environment and household level which makes it correct call it the “Harmful Evil Leaf of Death”. Instead of giving humanity to drink the ‘living water of life’ or provide the ‘food of good health’ like the GOOD SAMARITAN did in the famous Bible story, tobacco farmers and companies could rightly be nicknamed as classical “WICKED SAMARITANS” for insisting to justify tobacco to everyone in the name of making huge profits when they are sure that they are growing and selling a product that is ghastly killing mankind faster plane crashes or global terrorism.

  1. A noble call to stand up and act for Zambia and humanity

Based on the captioned and as a Zambian and citizen, you obliged by the Republican Constitution to help prevent the grave harm as well as save human lives that are being lost due to tobacco and smoking in Zambia: Please, share this information with your friends, family members, media houses, local councilors, MPs, chiefs and village  head persons, NGO/CSOs or religious leaders in your area and ask them to support the urgent domestication of the WHO FCTC through the “Tobacco Products and Nicotine Products Bill”.

As the “Tobacco Products and Nicotine Products Bill” is a multsectoral proposed legislation for Zambia and Zambians in domesticating the World Health Organization (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), your voice and action will influence and compel our MPs, Cabinet and President to make is bill into national law soonest. Don’t just read, act now!!!!

Chris Zumani Zimba is a prolific Political Scientist, Policy Analyst, Author, Blogger, PhD Scholar, Researcher, Consultant and Tobacco Control Advocate. Besides being the CEO and Managing Consultant at Chrizzima Democracy University (CDU) in Zambia, he analyses African politics weekly on Voice of the Cape Town, South Africa every Wednesday at 16:45hours CAT. So far, he has authored more than 10 political and academic books as well as published over 100 well researched articles on African politics and public health. Sometimes, he lectures Political Science-Part Time with University of Zambia (UNZA) and University of Lusaka (UNILUS) outside his usual commitments. or; +260 973 153 815



  1. WHO, (2005:3-6), “WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC)”, WHO Press: Geneva, ISBN 978 92 4 159101
  2. TBZ, (2018), “National Tobacco production”, An official Presentation made by James Kasongo – CEO TBZ and Alick Daka -Deputy Director Crops Ministry of Agriculture during the 2nd Stakeholder Consultative Meeting With Members Of Parliament at New Government Complex on 10th July 2018
  3. National Center for Biotechnology Information (2017:1) “Tobacco Control and Tobacco Farming in African Countries”, accessed from, Retrieved 12/11/2017
  4. JTI, (2018), “JTI Leaf Zambia”, Presentation made by Mr. Matakala, JTI Corperate Manager, during the 2nd Stakeholder Consultative Meeting With Members Of Parliament at New Government Complex on 10th July 2018
  5. Drug Free (2018:1), “WHO Report Smoking and drinking cause of millions of death worldwide”, accessed from , Retrieved on 10/01/2018; WHO (2018:1)“Tobacco-Key Facts” accessed from retrieved 02/12/2018
  6. Ministry of Health, WHO and UNPD, (20191-3) “Zambia: Investing in Tobacco Control”, Ministry of Health: Lusaka
  7. Goma Fastone and Jeffrey Drope, (2017), “The Economics of Tobacco Farming in Zambia”, The University of Zambia and American Cancer Society, Lusaka and USA; Daily Mail, (2018:1) “Economics vs health: Experts bash tobacco industry”, accessed from, Retrieved 19/03/2018


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