Public health specialist Dr Canisius Banda says government must not ban the usage of tobacco, but promote its growth as a high-value tradable cash crop because it is a vital commodity in economies globally and good for human health.

Dr Banda however warned that smoking tobacco was harmful, and urged people to use it as a vegetable salad and a source of nutritious oil.

Reacting to the newly-drafted Tobacco and Nicotine Inhalants Products Control Bill, which would effect a law that would regulate the sponsorship of tobacco products, services and their use in public and workplaces, Dr Banda insisted that tobacco was a valuable resource of human health and needed to be grown even without being consumed.

However, Dr Banda added that government’s MPOWER approach to the usage of tobacco was simply an offshoot of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which only blew smoke over the tobacco issue without really creating the required environment for safe use of the commodity.

On Monday, Ministry of Health Permanent Secretary for Administration, Dr Kennedy Malama, told participants at a joint-needs assessment meeting that government was drafting a Bill to effect a law that would regulate the sponsorship of tobacco products, services and their use in public and workplaces.

“You may want to know that Zambia acceded to the WHO FCTC on 23 May, 2008, to assist us fulfil our national and, indeed, WHO FCTC obligations, six evidence-based tobacco control demand reduction “MPOWER” measures that are proven to reduce tobacco use must be employed and these are; M for monitoring tobacco use and prevention policies; P for protecting people from tobacco smoking; O for Offering help to quit tobacco use; W for warning about the dangers of tobacco; E for Enforcing bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship and R for raising taxes on tobacco,” Dr Malama said.

But Dr Banda argued that the MPOWER initiative that had been initiated by the Health Ministry was a “fumble” because it had not clearly outlined how tobacco could be used without harming the users.

“New ways of using tobacco must be discovered and encouraged. For example, tobacco can be eaten as a cold salad/vegetable. Tobacco oil is even more effective as a source of nicotine than its smoke. Tobacco cakes are safe, and so are tobacco tablets or capsules. The appropriate processing of the tobacco leaf to ensure its safety and improved efficacy is the future of tobacco use. Nicotine, which is found in the tobacco leaf, is important for human health and other purposes. So, it follows then that, the MPOWER approach as an offshoot of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control is both flawed and parochial. It only obfuscates the matter, blows smoke over the tobacco issue,” Dr Banda argued.

“It only addresses the already wrong usage of tobacco without really creating the required environment for the safe use of tobacco. People must not be stopped from using tobacco. The global thrust, pioneered by the World Health Organization (WHO) itself, must be the emphasis on the creation of a safe and efficacious environment for the use of tobacco. What we are doing now with this MPOWER is merely groping in the dark.”

Dr Banda said tobacco growth naturally.

“The plant referred to as tobacco occurs naturally. It is not a creation of man; it is a gift of nature. Tobacco was created by God for man to use. On the other hand, because of his crass ignorance, man himself has created all the diseases and problems surrounding and associated with tobacco. Man has created tobacco smoke. There is a huge difference between tobacco and tobacco smoke. The tobacco leaf as it occurs naturally is harmless, but priceless fixture of nature. It is a valuable resource of human health and wellbeing. Diseases emanating from wrong tobacco use are a clear reflection of man’s failure to correctly adapt to his environment,” said Dr Banda.

“Tobacco must continue to be grown and consumed. It must also continue to be a vital commodity in economies globally as a high-value tradable cash crop. Nonetheless, tobacco must not be smoked. What is wrong and harmful about tobacco is the placement of its smoke in our lungs through smoking. This method of tobacco use predisposes the development of many diseases in humans ranging from impotence to hypertension to cancer. Those diseases occur when tobacco is smoked, this is a clear red STOP sign that it must not be smoked the way people do today. Smoking tobacco is anachronistic, obsolete and sheer stupidity. It is a sin, and it leads to death.”