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Should tobacco products be banned during the coronavirus crisis?

  • Published at 11:11 am May 5th, 2020

In Bangladesh, tobacco usage accounts for 161,000 deaths yearly and afflicts a few hundred thousand people with critical illnesses and diseases, according to different organizations

The demand for banning tobacco products is rising in Bangladesh as smokers remain more vulnerable and face more complications from Covid-19 than a regular person.

In Bangladesh, the demand for tobacco ban was first raised by 20 anti-tobacco organizations on April 7 who demanded a temporary ban on the production, distribution, and sales of tobacco during the Covid-19 crisis.

The alliance claimed India, Philippines, South Africa, and Botswana already banned tobacco as part of the fight against Covid-19 and demanded the ban in Bangladesh as tobacco use increases the possibilities of getting infected by coronavirus.

They also pointed out that tobacco can never be considered as an essential commodity in the age of coronavirus.

In Bangladesh, tobacco usage accounts for 161,000 deaths yearly and afflicts a few hundred thousand people with critical illnesses and diseases, according to different organizations.

Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) Additional Director General Nasima Sultana said: “Those who smoke should give it up because smoking increases the risk of coronavirus infections.”

How tobacco and Covid-19 are connected

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), smokers are likely to be more vulnerable to Covid-19 as the act of smoking means that fingers (and possibly contaminated cigarettes or biris) frequently come in contact with lips which increases the possibility of transmission of the virus from hand to mouth.

Tobacco products are sometimes shared among users, which could facilitate the transmission of Covid-19, it said.

Also, having a history of smoking may increase the chance of adverse health outcomes for Covid-19 patients.

Meanwhile, smokeless tobacco (zarda, gul, sada pata) increases saliva production and enhances the urge to spit repeatedly while spitting in public places could increase the spread of Covid-19.

Why a ban is needed

On April 20, Chair of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change Saber Hossain Chowdhury sent a letter to Health Minister Zahid Maleque requesting him for a temporary ban on tobacco sale during Covid-19 pandemic.

With the letter, the lawmaker cited different WHO warnings and also some guidelines of the Indian government enforced to implement a strict ban on the sale of tobacco items as part of its response to the pandemic.

“Similar interventions are urgently needed in the context of Bangladesh Government’s efforts to limit Covid-19 transmission,” Saber wrote in the letter.

In conversation with Dhaka Tribune, the lawmaker said it is both surprising and disappointing that at a time when the country is in complete lockdown and all establishments and industries have been closed down, the Ministry of Industries has given special dispensation to the tobacco units to continue all of their operations and activities without restriction.

He called for the health minister's intervention in withdrawing the special dispensation and strictly ban the production, distribution, and sale of tobacco during the lockdown imposed by the government.

Pointing out the fact that the tobacco industry is taking undue and unacceptable advantage of being classed as an essential industry in a 1956 (pre-independence) legislation, Saber requested the minister to make an amendment to this legislation and strike off tobacco as an essential industry.

Citing WHO, ABM Zubair, executive director of PROGGA, an anti-tobacco organization, said smokers will suffer more from Covid-19 as their lungs are already weak.

“Nearly 40 Million people, who consume some form of tobacco in Bangladesh, will be more vulnerable to Covid-19,” he said.

He called upon the health ministry to lead the ban on tobacco temporarily while requesting the finance ministry, industries ministry, and the Prime Minister’s Office to come forward in implementing this.

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