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বাংলা
Dhaka Tribune

Tobacco promoters hardly follow any rules

  • Law provides for a fine of Tk300 for smoking in public places
  • PM Hasina to build tobacco-free Bangladesh by 2040
Update : 04 Nov 2023, 10:18 AM

Bangladesh has become a booming market for tobacco companies over the years and the number of smokers and smokeless tobacco users is increasing alongside tobacco-related deaths—thanks to the authorities who are reluctant to enforce laws.

The law provides for a fine of Tk300 for smoking in public places and on public transport, while the penalty for tobacco companies is also specified in the existing law to discourage and reduce the use of tobacco products gradually.  

The prime minister has also called for an amendment to the law to make it compatible with the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and the vision of building a tobacco-free country by 2040.

Due to lack of enforcement of the law, open smoking is going on in various places including hospital premises, bus terminals, passenger cantonments, public transport, various government office premises, court premises, residential hotels, restaurants and educational institute premises.

On the other hand, tobacco companies are openly violating the law: they give free gifts to buyers and sellers, distribute free cigarettes, and do not discourage selling to children and adolescents. Rather, the sellers are encouraged to increase sales and stickers are used to adorn the shops.

Taking advantage of the ban on direct marketing, the tobacco companies and distributors are also engaged in price manipulation. Retailers say they cannot sell cigarettes in MRP (maximum retail price) printed on the packets because of unfair practices by the companies.

Apart from this, the officers and employees of cigarette and bidi companies are continuing campaigns by wearing shirts and pants with the company's logo.

Showing smoking scenes in TV dramas and movies without health warnings has also increased at an alarming rate but the regulators are looking the other way.

Currently, one in five deaths in Bangladesh is related to tobacco consumption.

Alarmingly, many school students in urban and rural areas are getting used to smoking cigarettes and then gradually taking drugs. Often teenagers are seen celebrating smoking in public places in school uniforms—as seen in videos that have gone viral on social media in recent years.  

Activists say wider campaigns by tobacco companies and the irresponsible screening of smoking scenes in the media are encouraging many children and teenagers to get addicted to smoking. Previously, the prohibition on smoking in public and in front of elderly persons became a social norm.

What is in the law?

Apart from cigarettes, tobacco is also used in making biri, and smokeless products like Jorda (chewing tobacco), Gul (tobacco dust) and Khaini (tobacco leaf mixed with lime). These products are popular mainly among elderly people, day labourers, and those living in rural areas who regularly consume betel leaf.

Researchers have found harmful metals including lead, cadmium, and chromium in Jorda and Gul available in the market.

The new trend of smoking e-cigarettes (vaping) among teenagers and youths is also alarming, health experts and activists say while pushing for an amendment to the existing laws to ban it.

The Smoking and Using of Tobacco Products (Control) (Amendment) Act, 2013, which is the principal law governing tobacco control in Bangladesh, is comprehensive and provides for: restrictions on smoking in public places; restrictions on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship; graphic health warnings on packaging and labelling; and loans for the cultivation of other cash crops as alternatives to tobacco, among others.

Besides, according to the Local Government's Tobacco Control Program Implementation Guidelines, all types of tobacco shops are prohibited within 100 metres of educational institutions and healthcare centres. It is also a crime to sell tobacco products to minors.

The 2013 amendments include a wider definition of tobacco products by incorporating Jorda, Gul, and Khaini as tobacco products, banning sales to minors, and increasing the fine for public smoking to Tk300 from Tk50.

It banned advertising and promotion of tobacco products at POS (Point of Sale), made 50% pictorial health warning on both sides of the principle areas of packets mandatory and banned the use of descriptors on packets like light, mild, low-tar, extra, ultra etc.

Health risks

Thus, smokers as well as non-smokers are facing health risks every day. Cigarettes contain the addictive ingredient “nicotine” and this bad habit often leads smokers to consume drugs and alcohol, experts say.

The country's health system is already under pressure from non-communicable diseases, and tobacco use is the main cause of heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, kidney complications, hormonal complications and lung problems. Moreover, cigarettes are responsible for chronic health complications like cough, gastric, constipation and insomnia.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), cardiovascular diseases – heart-related conditions – are the top tobacco-related cause of death in Bangladesh, nearly half of all tobacco-related deaths in Bangladesh. 

Another major reason for premature death in the country is cerebrovascular diseases – conditions that cause insufficient blood supply to the brain. Other tobacco-induced reasons for death in Bangladesh are chronic respiratory diseases, cancers, and communicable, maternal, neonatal, and nutritional diseases.

The Khulna case

Violation of the tobacco control law—from smoking in public places to open marketing by tobacco companies—was seen in at least 20 localities of Khulna city which has undergone rapid urbanization in the past few decades.

Recently, this correspondent visited Rupsha, Tutpara, PTI, Royal Mor, Satrasta, Moylapota, Shibbari, Ferighat, Railway Station, Sat Number Ghat, New Market, Sonadanga, Gollamari, Zero Point, Nirala, Shantidham, Khalishpur, Daulatpur, Boyra and BL Mor College areas of the metropolis, and found most of the cigarette-selling shops decorated by various companies.

Member of Bangladesh Anti-Tobacco Alliance and Executive Director of Social and Environment Increasing Analysis Movement Masum Billah said: “Tobacco companies are campaigning openly; they are giving various gifts, and displaying advertisements on delivery vehicles. These campaigns are encouraging many people to smoke. Although the law prohibits the sale of tobacco products to minors, cigarettes are freely sold to children and teenagers.”

He blamed British American Tobacco Bangladesh (BATB) and Japan Tobacco International (JTI) for such illegal activities and asked the district administration to run mobile courts.

These companies are violating the law by carrying out promotional campaigns and sponsoring competitions involving youths—in an attempt to build a good image under the guise of social responsibility programs, Aid Foundation Project Officer Kazi Hasibul Haque told Dhaka Tribune.

Taijul Islam, a tea-cigarette shopkeeper in New Market area, said: “Tobacco companies are manipulating the price. They are charging 5-10% more than the retail price mentioned on the cigarette packet.”

Enayet Hossain, project officer at the Social and Environment Increasing Analysis Movement, lamented the culture of negligence of the tobacco companies. “They are openly violating the law. Meanwhile, under their sponsorship, smoking scenes have increased at an alarming rate in dramas and movies.”

Kudrat-e-Khuda, general secretary of the Citizens for Good Governance (SHUJAN) in Khulna, said: “Tobacco companies have become aggressive across the country. This aggression is increasing due to the weakness of the administration. If the law is not strictly enforced, the youth will perish. At the same time, we will be crushed by non-infectious diseases.”

The tobacco companies, which are among the top VAT-payers in the country, agree that tobacco products should be regulated in appropriate ways. BATB says it has a market-leading position in over 50 countries and operations in more than 200 countries.

“We support, and want to help deliver, a balanced tobacco regulation and we want to participate and support the Government with advice on and compliance with effective future laws. In Bangladesh, we support balanced regulation of the tobacco industry and believe strongly that we should participate and support the government with developments, enactments and compliance with future laws,” the BATB website says.

Khulna Local Government Department Deputy Director Yusuf Ali said they have strengthened anti-tobacco activities.

“Letters have been given to speed up this program at the union level as well. Various suggestions have been made to the anti-tobacco organizations. The work of collecting related information from different areas is going on. Besides, we are also conducting mobile courts,” he told Dhaka Tribune.

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