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Dhaka Tribune

Mayors unite for a tobacco-free Bangladesh by 2040

The goal of the gathering was to discuss implementing tobacco control laws and local government guidelines

Update : 21 Jul 2023, 10:32 PM

Mayors across Bangladesh's municipalities pledged to strive towards Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's vision of a tobacco-free Bangladesh by 2040 as they convened in the beach-city of Cox's Bazar on Friday for a two-day summit with national and international tobacco control experts. 

The summit brought together at least 28 mayors, including representatives from Cox's Bazar, Moheshkhali, Savar, Dhamrai, Tangail, and Rangpur city corporation. 

Also present were Health Services Division Secretary Dr Md Anwar Hossain Howlader, Local Government Division Joint Secretary Md Jasim Uddin and experts from The Union and the World Health Organization (WHO). 

The goal of the gathering was to discuss implementing tobacco control laws and local government guidelines.

The event was jointly arranged by the Mayor Alliance for Healthy Cities, Cox's Bazar Municipality, Dhaka International University, and Aid Foundation. 

The Union and the Asia Pacific Cities Alliance for Health and Development (APCAT) provided technical support.

Bangladesh enacted its tobacco control law in 2005 after ratifying the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), the first international treaty negotiated under the auspices of WHO. 

This law was amended in 2013 to introduce pictorial health warnings and include smokeless tobacco, a common form of tobacco use in Bangladesh. 

However, it took more than three years to put the law into practice due to pressure from tobacco companies.

During this time, new challenges, such as e-cigarettes and vaping products, emerged. In response, the health ministry drafted an amendment banning these vaping products, lifting the provision of designated smoking zones to prevent second-hand smoking, and controlling point-of-sale advertising.

This draft is currently awaiting cabinet approval.

However, anti-tobacco activists say tobacco use is not declining as expected. The latest nationwide data shows that in 2017, some 35.3% of adults aged 18 and above used tobacco in any form, a decrease from 43% in 2009.

If this trend continues, experts warn, the prime minister's goal of a tobacco-free Bangladesh, which requires tobacco use to be less than 5%, will not be met.

Local government leaders can play a pivotal role in implementing these policies, according to Dr Tara Singh Bam, regional director of The Union Asia Pacific, who spoke at the summit. 

He outlined three key objectives of the summit: strengthening leadership commitment, establishing accountability measures, and ensuring long-term sustainability.

“The key is to have strong local leadership in terms of policy development, policy implementation, and mobilising funds at the local level for the prevention of tobacco use and non-communicable diseases,” he said.

He stressed the importance of accountability, saying: "Mechanisms need to be established that ensure mayors are held accountable for safeguarding the development and implementation of public health policies from the undue influence of unhealthy commodity industries."

Dr Bam further highlighted the central role of mayors in policy implementation and the need for sustainable action, saying: "Local government leaders can form partnerships with the government and private sector. They can invest from their own resources."

Joint Secretary Jasim Uddin told the Dhaka Tribune that the mayors attending the Cox's Bazar summit are "very committed" to preventing tobacco-related diseases and deaths. 

"We, the Ministry of Local Government, issued tobacco guidelines for all the municipalities and cities to assist them. We have distributed these guidelines,” he said.

The guidelines direct the mayors to improve tobacco control law enforcement, build public awareness, allocate funds for tobacco control, and limit the availability of tobacco products.

The Union is working with the ministry, the National Institute of Local Government, and several cities, including the municipal corporations of Dhaka, Khulna, Rajshahi, and Barisal, to implement these guidelines.

The Bangladesh Mayor Alliance for Healthy Cities, formed in 2019, aims to build healthy cities to prevent non-communicable diseases and tobacco use.

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