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Argentinians say: put this in your pipe and smoke it
October 29, 2006 San Pedro, Argentina - Following in his father's footsteps, Esteban da Rosa has been growing tobacco on a smallholding in northern Argentina all his life. And like many other farmers he's in no hurry to give it up. The South American country has joined the list of nations cracking down on smoking and its tobacco farmers have long been encouraged to replace at least some of their tobacco crops with alternatives ranging from pigs to pine trees. But in the verdant province of Misiones, tobacco is still the most profitable crop for small farmers, and growing tobacco lets them join a union that gives them health insurance and the power to negotiate better prices with tobacco firms. "Tobacco and cigarettes aren't as bad as people think because it gives us a livelihood," says Da Rosa. "There are a lot of heavy anti-smoking campaigns but cheap cigarettes sales are still the same. In the grand scheme of things they won't stop people smoking." The nearby town of San Pedro lies roughly 1 300km north of Buenos Aires at the heart of the tobacco-producing region of Misiones. Tobacco plants dot the plots of red soil. Though some better-off farmers have tractors, many use plows drawn by bulls to furrow their small, hilly fields. "Without tobacco this area would be utterly poor," says Emilio Lates, a radio journalist who does public relations for the Misiones Tobacco Planters' Association. It groups nearly 20 000 farming families in Misiones, where production rose more than 9 percent in the 2004/05 harvest. "I've got a problem with tobacco, but not with the farmers," says Lates, an enthusiastic smoker. "As a poor country we don't have the luxury of giving up growing tobacco." More and more countries are imposing smoking restrictions and several Argentinian provinces have banned smoking in bars and cafes. About one-third of adults smoke in Argentina, which is one of the world's top 10 tobacco suppliers. Neighbouring Uruguay imposed Latin America's toughest ban this year, joining several US states, European and Asian nations imposing laws aimed at cutting tobacco-related illnesses. Argentina's agriculture secretariat has been encouraging alternatives to tobacco in growing areas for years, as well as promoting greener practices in an industry criticised for deforestation and using large quantities of agrochemicals.
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