"Recent trends in the organization of the tobacco leaf production and marketing chain, including use of integrated production systems, has expanded these multinational corporations' control over price and other factors while making farmers increasingly dependent."
The labor-intensive process of tobacco farming provides income to millions of families in producing countries. Once growing and manufacturing are finished in LMICs, the higher phases of the value chain then move to multinational tobacco companies that are largely based in high-income countries, the report explained.
State subsidies for the tobacco-growing sector within LMICs are also high, unlike in HICs where assistance is reduced or eliminated.
But perhaps the biggest hindrance to crop substitution is geography.
Many of the substitute crops that can be as profitable as tobacco, including sweet potatoes and zucchini, require investments in infrastructure, and tend to be highly specific to a country, the WHO report said.
"Tobacco is an expensive crop to grow, but so too are most high-value alternative crops. Building new, and hopefully better, support systems for other crops is a clear challenge for diversification programs. It will take time for these systems to emerge, and any successful transition from tobacco will likely be a gradual process."
The WHO found higher taxes and prices on tobacco products remain the single most consistent means to reduce global tobacco use. But tax administration can be challenging for LMICs with limited resources, it added.
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