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May 31 is World No Tobacco Day. For people in British Columbia, the issues that initially come to mind on the subject of tobacco are smoking in multi-unit dwellings, smoking in parks and beaches, and sidewalk litter.

One of the themes for World No Tobacco Day for 2012 is how the tobacco industry has stepped up their efforts to have their way with national governments. A high-profile example of this is plain packaging for cigarettes, which is enacted in Australia, and under consideration in the United Kingdom. You can read more about it here.

Here's another one for British Columbians: child labour. Marty Otañez, a friend of Airspace, has published a paper about the tobacco industry's use of child labour in Malawi, the country that has gotten the most publicity in this regard. The tobacco industry's use of child labour is also widespread in The Philippines, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, and India.

This is serious. Children that are exploited like this don't go to school or do other things that children normally do. Children that work in tobacco fields are beaten, sexually abused, and poisoned by the high exposure to nicotine.

OK, so you don't shop at WalMart, or buy cigarettes. Sorry, you're still not off the hook on this. Your Provincial government, through the agency British Columbia Investment Management Corporation (BCIMC), holds shares in at least seven tobacco companies, at last count. They hold $103 million worth of British American Tobacco (BAT), one of the biggest customers of child labour-produced tobacco. They also hold shares in Sousa Cruz, the Brazilian subsidiary of BAT and another major offender.

BCIMC is supposed to operate at arms length from the Provincial government, and they tend to fly below the public radar screen. However, BCIMC has standards that they are supposed to operate by; you can read them here. Yes, these standards include the fundamental standards of the International Labour Organization. For that reason, investment in the tobacco industry by BCIMC should be an automatic “fail.”

It's time to get your MLA, cabinet ministers, and the Official Opposition interested in this.

A Berlin-based organization, www.unfairtobacco.org, is taking on the larger issue of tobacco cultivation. Not just the labour standards, but damage caused by deforestation and pesticides.

This article was also published on the Airspace Action on Smoking and Health site.

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