Italy is Europe’s number one tobacco producer, responsible for around a third of the continent’s total production. Nevertheless, at least on paper, this is an industry in decline: globalization has shifted tobacco cultivations to countries like China – today the globe’s leading producer – and to Africa and countries like Zimbabwe and Malawi, where labour costs are lower and environmental protections less stringent.
This has meant that in the last 20 years Italian annual production has fallen from 120 thousand tonnes to 53 thousand. Furthermore, in line with the European Union’s health policies, direct aid to the sector has been suspended.
Nevertheless, at the end of 2020 an announcement by Philip Morris brought a ray of hope to a sector that seemed headed for a profound crisis. The tobacco multinational, in fact, presented a 500 million euro investment plan for the five years from 2021-2025 that includes a commitment to purchase half of the tobacco grown in Italy and to work with the farming associations to draft a set of good practices in agriculture with the goal of preventing forms of labour exploitation and improving the sustainability of the production chain.
So, in spite of the fact that Italy is one of the European countries with the strictest regulations concerning smoking, its tobacco industry can now breathe again.