Protest over green award for tobacco producer

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 20 July, 2012, 12:00am


A government-backed charity has come under fire for giving the world's largest tobacco producer an award for its 'significant contribution to ecological protection'.

China Green Foundation, supervised by the State Forestry Administration, gave the award to China National Tobacco Corp on World Environmental Protection Day last month, prompting tobacco control activists to write a protest letter.

The letter, from the Chinese Association on Tobacco Control, was sent to the foundation and posted on the association's website on Wednesday, the day that Health Minister Dr Chen Zhu received a World Health Organisation special recognition certificate for his commitment to tobacco control.

It urged the foundation to cancel the award issued to the company and not to shortlist tobacco production companies as candidates for future awards.

'Issuing the award to China National Tobacco Corp ignores the facts that the tobacco industry damages human health and the environment and is against the spirit of the WHO's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control,' it said.

Tobacco is mostly planted in dry areas and requires more than five times as much phosphate fertiliser as coffee and more than seven times as much as corn. The association says such heavy use of fertiliser has damaged fertile land and the natural ecosystem.

China National Tobacco also cut down two million trees every year to sustain its business, causing widespread deforestation and soil erosion, the letter said.

Fei Yong , an official with the foundation's external affairs department, said it received the letter on Wednesday. It has yet to issue a formal replay but Fei said it would not withdraw the award. However, it would be more cautious when going through the selection process next year.

The selection was mostly based on the company's financial contribution to green causes, Fei said.

China National Tobacco donated 100 million yuan (HK$122.8 million) last year to support the planting of greenery, mostly in Chongqing , Fei said. It set up an ecology fund with donations of five million yuan to support the planting of Chinese chestnut and sea-buckthorn to combat soil erosion in Inner Mongolia , Hebei and Gansu .

China is the world's largest tobacco producer and consumer. Even though it ratified the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in 2006 it failed to honour its promise to ban smoking in indoor areas by January last year. In April, China National Tobacco withdrew its research on improving cigarettes from consideration for the National Science and Technology Progress Award, amid accusations it was promoting smoking and misleading the public.