World No Tobacco Day 2023: Tobacco agriculture in Europe continues to be subsidised, abuse migrant workers & contaminate ecosystems

Wednesday, 31 May 2023

In resonance with WHO’s World No Tobacco Day 2023 theme of “We need food, not tobacco”, SFP calls for transitioning away from tobacco farming.

Key facts:

1. EU continues to subsidise tobacco farming through its Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) to a tune of between €100 and €270 million over 5 years

2. Migrants including minors in Italy were forced to work 12-hour days without contracts or protective equipment, being paid as little as €3 an hour.

3. Tobacco cultivation contaminates food crops with toxic nicotine, posing a public health threat.


“We need food, not tobacco.” On WHO World No Tobacco Day 2023, the Smoke Free Partnership (SFP) underlines that tobacco agriculture continues to be subsidised through the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), abuse migrant workers, and contaminate crops and vegetation with nicotine.

This year, World No Tobacco Day aims to raise awareness of the harm tobacco cultivation inflicts upon the environment and its workers. SFP calls for more government support for the transition to growing sustainable, nutritious crops that strengthen global food security.

“There is a policy paradox between the EU’s ambitious initiatives such as the Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan, Farm to Fork strategy and current practices that undermine food resilience and public health,” said SFP Director Lilia Olefir.

Abuse of migrants

According to a 2019 investigation by The Guardian, migrant workers were reported to have been abused in tobacco plantations of Italy, Europe’s largest producer of raw tobacco.

The report uncovered widespread abuse of undocumented African migrant workers in Italian tobacco plantations. Workers, including minors, were forced to work 12-hour days without contracts or protective equipment, being paid as little as €3 an hour.

As a direct consequence of working without protection, workers described symptoms of Green Tobacco Sickness (GTS), an illness resulting from the over absorption of nicotine through the skin and lungs. GTS was also diagnosed in tobacco workers in Poland, Europe’s second largest raw tobacco producer.

Tobacco farming threatens public health

According to another study done in Italy, tobacco production was linked to elevated levels of nicotine in crops and vegetation in production areas. This confirmed the suspicions of the European Food and Safety Authority (EFSA) that tobacco cultivation is contaminating food crops with nicotine.

Tobacco farming is also heavily dependent on pesticides that pollute soil and groundwater. A recent study by the European Environment Agency (EEA) found the presence of at least two pesticides in 84% of study participants across five European countries.

Pesticide use is a major public health threat, as it is linked to chronic illnesses like cancer and heart diseases.

Policy Paradox

The EU continues to subsidise tobacco farming through the CAP estimated to be between €100 and €270 million over 5 years.

According to a 2021 report, CAP is projected to pay about €20 million to raw tobacco growers every year, totaling €100 million after the five-year period of CAP from 2023-27.

As per updates to the report*, this estimate is modest. In 2019, €36 million was given, in addition to direct payments, under “transitional national aid” (TNA) to tobacco farmers, a system of payments which remains in the current CAP. In the same year, €7.8 million in market support was also given through CAP to tobacco farming. If this continues, the final estimated sum comes to a whopping €270 million in subsidies to tobacco farming throughout the current CAP.

Driving EU funding away from tobacco farming would be in line with the EEA's recommendation to reduce reliance on chemical pesticides and preserve food production systems in Europe.

*Sourced from research by Pieter Devuyst, Senior European Food and Agriculture Policy Analyst, S&P Global.


Press contact

Lilia Olefir, Director, Smoke Free Partnership lilia.olefir at

The Smoke Free Partnership (SFP) is a Coalition of over 50 NGOs working on policy analysis and advocacy to implement the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control at EU level

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