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Progga: Bangladesh did little to implement WHO tobacco control initiatives

  • Published at 07:10 pm September 6th, 2018
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According to WHO study in 2009, 41.3 million people use tobacco in Bangladesh, of whom 47.3% are smokers Mehedi Hasan/Dhaka Tribune

Tobacco consumption came down to 18.5% (relative reduction) in 2017, a government research finds

Bangladesh has made little progress in setting and implementing public health policies related to tobacco control in tackling the influence of the powerful tobacco industry, as recommended by the World Health Organization.

A research, published on Wednesday by the anti-tobacco alliance, Progga, ranked Bangladesh ninth among 10 Southeast Asian countries in implementing the instructions of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) Article 5.3.

The sub-section reads: “In setting and implementing their public health policies with respect to tobacco control, Parties shall act to protect these policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry in accordance with national law.”

Dhaka adopted the FCTC in 2008 but has so far enforced no specific guideline. The Progga research identified tobacco companies' interference as the biggest obstacle to achieving a tobacco-free Bangladesh.

Using the questionnaire by Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) in light of FCTC Article 5.3, the research assessed intervention of tobacco companies in seven sections.  

Other countries in the Progga list are – Brunei, the Philippines, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Vietnam, and Indonesia. Brunei, the Philippines, and Thailand ranked 1st, 2nd and 3rd respectively.

"Bangladesh government’s anti-tobacco activities brought down tobacco consumption to 18.5% (relative reduction) in 2017,” Progga's Coordinator, Md Hasan Shahriar, said while unveiling the research.

The 2017 Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) found that 37.8 million people or 35.3% of the population above the age of 15 used tobacco products. The number was 41.3 million or 43.3% in 2009.

“Bangladesh’s goal of achieving a tobacco-free country will be delayed if tobacco companies continue to interfere (in enacting and implementing policies),” Shahriar added.

The study tried to evaluate the government’s handling of the tobacco companies’ interference and Bangladesh’s steps to protect public health policies in 2016 and 2017.

Planning Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal, the program’s chief guest, said the research will be useful for future tobacco control measures.

He promised necessary fiscal measures, such as hiking prices of tobacco products, after consulting the finance minister.

Inter Parliamentary Union Honorary President, Saber Hossain Chowdhury, said one of the reasons for the country’s weak implementation of the tobacco control activities was the government’s 10.85% share in British American Tobacco Bangladesh (BATB).

“Six of the 10 members of the BATB board are current and former government officials,” he said. “This is how the tobacco companies get the chance to interfere (in government policies related to tobacco control activities).”

PMO’s Chief Coordinator of SDG Affairs, Abul Kalam Azad, said the prime minister has expressed her wish to implement the FCTC. "We are in a much stronger position than before,” he said. “We not only want to support the FCTC implementation but also participate actively."

Former Dhaka University VC, AAMS Arefin Siddique, presiding over the program, said: "In light of Article 5.3, the formation of a code of conduct has been recommended for government officials, and that should be seriously considered."