KARACHI: Citing safety risks which tobacco companies must address, global tobacco industry watchdog STOP (Stopping Tobacco Organizations and Products) and Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), in a statement, have urged caution following a rash of reports that tobacco industry practices may be putting their workers at risk for COVID-19.
The alert comes amid news that two factory workers died from COVID-19, and dozens of others tested positive at a Philip Morris International affiliate in Indonesia. Recently, news reports confirmed 44 workers of the Pakistan Tobacco Company and its labor colonies in Akora Khattak in district Nowshera tested Covid-19 positive, prompting the deputy commissioner to direct the testing of 800 workers and staff members.
The deaths in Indonesia were reported among workers at a tobacco factory in the Rungkut district of Surabaya, East Java. According to reports in the Jakarta Post, nine workers at the factory, which employs at least 500 people, have been admitted to hospital, and 63 samples from 323 workers (20%) who had been tested were deemed positive, although further confirmation is awaited.
In Pakistan, of the 200 employees tested at the PTC factory, 44 tested positive and 156 negatives for the viral infection, while results of 600 workers were still awaited. The confirmed cases in Nowshera district stands at 175 since the outbreak of the deadly disease in the country.
Earlier in April, workers at the Ibadan cigarette factory in Oyo State in Nigeria, where social distancing measures should be in place, accused British American Tobacco’s management of placing them at risk of COVID-19 infection.
A similar complaint was reported in Zimbabwe, where the National Union for Tobacco Industry and Allied Trades demanded annual tobacco auctions be suspended while the country was in a national lockdown.
“We are deeply saddened at the news that tobacco workers have died from COVID-19, and others may be at risk in their jobs,” said Bungon Ritthiphakdee, Executive Director of the Global Center for Good Governance in Tobacco Control (GGTC), a partner in STOP. “Instead of doing everything they can to protect workers amid the pandemic, the tobacco industry may be putting them at more risk.”
“By putting their employees and, by extension, the rest of the population, at greater risk from coronavirus, the tobacco industry demonstrates its complete disregard for health, for life and human rights. And all to ensure the supply of a product that kills when used exactly as the industry intends,” said Laurent Huber, Executive Director, Actions on Smoking in Health.
“Governments must ensure that tobacco companies and their suppliers comply with physical distancing and other measures to slow the spread of the coronavirus,” he added.