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Dhaka Tribune

Industries Ministry rejects tobacco ban proposal

India and some other countries have already suspended tobacco production following the Covid-19 outbreak

Update : 20 May 2020, 07:22 PM

The Ministry of Industries has turned down a call from the Health and Family Welfare Ministry seeking a ban of tobacco products in the country.

It said that the production, supply, marketing, and sale of tobacco products should continue considering the national economy.

Industries Ministry’s observation came in a press statement on Wednesday in response to a letter by Health Services Division on Tuesday requesting the Industries Ministry to suspend the special permissions given to the tobacco companies recently allowing them to run their businesses amid Covid-19 pandemic.

Industries Ministry in the statement said that tobacco is an important industry that is closely connected with the livelihoods of thousands of marginal farmers and workers of the country who would face severe consequences out of any suspension, reports UNB.

Tobacco industry also has a large contribution to Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the country, and the move would also lead to the government losing huge amounts of revenue, the Ministry said.

The country’s economy is already facing challenges due to coronavirus outbreak and additional closure of industry would affect the national economy severely, the Ministry opined.

Bangladesh has seen a spike in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths in recent weeks. On Wednesday, the country announced detection of 1617 more patients in a span of 24 hours, raising the total number of cases to 26,738.

The virus also claimed 16 more lives during the period, pushing up the national tally to 386.

Earlier on Wednesday, Industries Minister Nurul Majid Mahmud Humayun said: “At the moment, tobacco products are allegedly causing severe damage during Covid-19. So it can be taken as a prescription of drugs. The decision [suspend tobacco production] will be taken in a meeting with the concerned people.” 

The minister came up with the remark while responding to a question from reporters following a meeting at the Ministry of Commerce.

Habibur Rahman Khan, additional secretary of Ministry of Health and Family Welfare while briefing reporters at Bangladesh Secretariat said that responding to their request the Ministry of Industries has requested tobacco companies in Bangladesh to suspend production, supply, marketing and sales temporarily.

The reason is that smokers face a 14 times higher risk of dying from Covid-19 than non-smokers, according to some research.

Considering the risks, the Ministry of Industries had issued a letter in this regard on Tuesday to tobacco companies, including British American Tobacco Bangladesh.

“The Industries Ministry has urged the companies to assist the government in preventing coronavirus,” he said. 

Habibur Rahman, also media coordinator of Health Services Division said: “The industry ministry has also sent letters to the regulatory bodies to monitor tobacco issues.”

“As we [Ministry of Health and Family Welfare] do not have authority over tobacco selling, we requested the Ministry of Industries to issue a letter in this regard,” he clarified.

A letter signed by Khairul Alam Sheikh, joint secretary at the Health Ministry, was sent to the Ministry of Industries on Monday.

“For the betterment of public health, the ministry [of industries] is requested to suspend production, distribution and sales of tobacco-related products,” the letter reads.

In the letter, the health ministry also said the World Health Organization (WHO) has discouraged the use of tobacco-related products as tobacco users are considered to be more vulnerable to Covid-19 – a highly contagious and deadly respiratory illness caused by a new strain of coronavirus, named Sars-CoV-2.

“We have received the letter and are taking necessary actions,” said Helal Uddin, additional secretary of the Ministry of Industries.

“We are sharing our steps with the Health Services Division,” he told Dhaka Tribune.

But within hours, the Industries Ministry came up with a different opinion on tobacco ban and issued the press release quashing the Health Ministry’s request.

India and some other countries have already suspended tobacco production following the Covid-19 outbreak.

Earlier, Awami League lawmaker Saber Hossain Chowdhury sent a letter to the Health Ministry, asking to take action regarding the use of tobacco in the country.

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