When low-income people smoke bidis and the rest smoke cigarettes, it is not hard to see who would have to bear the brunt of a ban on bidis as suggested by the finance minister.
Moreover, bidis are an indigenous form of smoking that has existed in the region for much longer than imported cigarettes, and it would be a shame to lose that, along with the thousands of jobs that the local bidi industry currently provides.
And who would be at risk of losing their livelihoods if the industry shuts down? Also the poor.
Banning bidis and not cigarettes is therefore discriminatory, as it would affect the poor disproportionately.
The fact is, all tobacco is harmful, so why selectively ban one and not the other?
Like most products, lower-end ones are usually less useful, or in this case, possibly slightly more harmful, than higher-end ones, but it is up to consumers to decide which one they want; no one has the right to take that choice away from consumers.
A democratic government must exercise the authority to interfere with people’s personal choice much more judiciously.
If it is going to ban anything at all, it must demonstrate very clearly that not doing so would result in great harm to all concerned.
But in this case, banning bidis based on the assumption that it might be marginally more harmful than cigarettes reeks of discrimination, and perhaps even some string-pulling by the powerful and duplicitous cigarette lobby.
If the government cares so much about the health of its population, there are plenty of other areas it can address that are way less controversial: The appalling state of hygiene and road safety, particularly in Dhaka city, would be a good place to start.