When the tobacco industry claims that the evidence showing that tobacco farming in poor countries ruins the soil, causes deforestation or harms farm workers is false, can we believe them? (Demonising tobacco farming is wrong, August 20).

Although the International Tobacco Growers Association (ITGA) denies these charges, it does accept that the regulation of pesticides in middle- and low-income countries “is poor” and that farmworkers can suffer from vomiting, dizziness and stomach cramps because of the absorption of nicotine through the skin. One study found that child tobacco leaf pickers in Malawi absorbed the same amount of nicotine as people who smoked 50 cigarettes a day.

For the ITGA the solution is simple: workers should wear protective clothing. So why aren’t the children wearing protective clothing?

The answer is, their families are so poor they cannot afford it.

Malawian farmers sell tobacco at a loss.

Last year, farmers were paid an average $1.13/kg for burley tobacco yet in 2006, the cost of producing a kilogram was $1.20. Little wonder that Malawi, the largest tobacco grower in Africa, is one of the poorest countries in the world.

Dr Yussuf Saloojee, executive director, National Council Against Smoking