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Stringent law must to make Bangladesh tobacco-free by 2040

Life 2022-07-29, 5:37pm

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Considering the economic loss and health burden caused from tobacco use, the government should enact a harsher anti-tobacco law .



Considering the economic loss and health burden caused from tobacco use, the government should enact a harsher anti-tobacco law to check its use in the country aiming to protect public health, according to experts.

"If we cannot enact a stronger anti-tobacco act to check its use, it will be quite impossible to meet the target, set by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, for making Bangladesh tobacco-free by 2040," said Dr Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad, a renowned economist and development thinker.

He said the government has already prepared the draft amendment to the existing tobacco control act, which is a good one.

"We hope the draft law will be sent to the cabinet and it will be approved. Then the draft law will be passed in parliament accordingly as Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has announced that Bangladesh will be made a tobacco-free country by 2040," Kholiquzzaman said.

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has already formulated the draft amendment to the Smoking and Using of Tobacco Products (Control) Act, 2005 with a view to strengthening the tobacco control law.

The draft amendment has incorporated a number of important proposals and attempted to amend certain clauses.

The most notable changes incorporated in the draft amendment include eliminating the provisions for designated smoking areas in public places and transport; banning display of tobacco products and packs at points-of-sale; banning tobacco companies' direct or via third-party involvement in corporate social responsibility (CSR) programmes; banning the production, import and sale of e-cigarettes, electronic nicotine delivery system (ENDS), heated tobacco products and other emerging tobacco products; restricting the sale of loose tobacco products or tobacco products without packet, package or container; and increasing graphic health warning (GHW) on tobacco packs by at least 90 percent.

Eminent economist and former governor of Bangladesh Bank Prof Dr Atiur Rahman said the draft prepared and publicised by the ministry to amend the tobacco control act has reflected all the proposals from the anti-tobacco stakeholders.

He said upon being publicised for public opinion, the draft amendment has been widely accepted by the stakeholders from all quarters, while over 20,000 individuals and organisations have formally extended their support for the proposed draft amendment to the tobacco control act.

Unnayan Shamannay senior research associate Dr Md Mahabub Hasan said six points, including the ban of display of tobacco products, restricting CSR of tobacco companies and sale of tobacco products within 100 metres of educational institutions, parks and hospitals, and banning e-cigarette, were incorporated in the draft amendment, which make it stronger.

 "The draft amendment to the tobacco control law was made considering the demands from different quarters. As per their demands, we prepared the draft amendment," said Hossain Ali Khandaker, additional secretary of the Health Services Division and coordinator of the Tobacco Control Cell.

Bangladesh is still one of the top tobacco consuming countries around the world as over 35 percent (37.8 million adults) people of the country currently consume tobacco.

The latest Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) revealed that 18 percent people in Bangladesh (19.2 million adults) smoke tobacco.

Around 14 percent (15.0 million adults) smoke cigarettes, while 5 percent (5.3 million adults) smoke bidi.

About 20.6 percent (22.0 million adults) use smokeless tobacco, while 18.7 percent (20.0 million adults) consume betel quid with tobacco. Around 3.6 percent (3.9 million adults) used gul, the survey said.

Bangladesh incurs an economic loss of Taka 30,000 crore per year in addressing tobacco-related diseases, against its revenue collection of Taka 22,000 crore from tobacco companies, according to a 2018 survey of Bangladesh Cancer Society.

It said about 1,61,000 people die every year in Bangladesh suffering from tobacco-related diseases.

The average monthly expenditure per consumer for cigarettes was Taka 1077.7, while for bidi was Taka 341.9.

Prof Dr Sohel Reza Chowdhury, head of the Department of Epidemiology and Research at National Heart Foundation, said about four crore people of the country use two kinds of tobacco products - smoking cigarettes and bidis, and smokeless tobaccos like zarda and gul.

He said those who use smokeless tobacco often suffer from oral cancer and the people smoking cigarettes and bidis are at high risk of heart attack.

Dr Chowdhury said there is a high rate of premature death, caused by heart attack, among youths in the country as they smoke cigarettes.

Tobacco use is putting extra burden on the country's health sector as it has to spend about Taka 30,000 crore per year in providing treatment to the patients suffering from tobacco-related diseases, he said.

According to the existing tobacco control law, smoking is prohibited in all public places and public transports including government offices, educational institutes, hospitals and clinics, restaurants, and all public transports.

Owners of public places and public transports are responsible for making their premises smoking-free and displaying of 'no smoking' signage to comply with the law. The law is being violated widely.

A survey, conducted by Dhaka Ahsania Mission, showed the indiscriminate violation of the law as it found 98 percent restaurants violating the law. About 34 percent restaurants were found to be with smoking instance, while 98 percent restaurants were found not displaying 'no smoking' signage as per the law.

Also, the tobacco companies frequently apply various ill tactics to publicise their products, violating the law.

Anti-tobacco campaigners say although the existing anti-tobacco law bans advertising, promotion andsponsorship, including point of sale advertising, of tobacco products, it does not currently prohibit the sale of tobacco products around schools and playgrounds.

About 90.5 percent schools and playgrounds were found selling tobacco products within its 100 metre radius, revealed the study of Dhaka Ahsania Mission.

Bangladesh still remains one of the top 15 countries with tobacco-related health hazards, and youth are the major target of tobacco industry.

"To achieve the goal of building a tobacco-free country by 2040, set by the honorable prime minister, this draft amendment must be finalised," Dr Atiur Rahman told a recent meeting, adding that finalising the draft amendment is the call of the hour.

Stressing the need for finalisation of the draft amendment to safeguard public health, Dr Mahabub said the tobacco companies will make their ill-efforts to hinder the passing of the amendment to the law but the anti-tobacco campaigners should continue putting pressure on the government to pass and enact this stronger law aiming to achieve the target Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has set.

"We will continue our demand until a stronger anti-tobacco law is passed and enacted," said Dr Kholiquzzaman.