Negative impacts of tobacco result from human consumption and from tobacco-growing activities, most of which now occur in low- and middle-income countries. Malawi is the world's largest producer of burley tobacco and its population is affected by the negative consequences of both tobacco consumption and production. In countries like Malawi, tobacco control refers to control of the tobacco supply chain, rather than control of consumption. We review the impact of tobacco cultivation, using Malawi as an example, to illustrate the economic, environmental, health and social issues faced by low- and middle-income countries that still produce significant tobacco crops. We place these issues in the context of the sustainable development goals (SDGs), particularly 3a which calls on all governments to strengthen the implementation of the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Other goals address the negative effects that tobacco cultivation has on development. The SDGs offer an opportunity for low- and middle-income countries that are dependent on tobacco production and that are not yet parties to the Convention, to reconsider joining the FCTC.