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OP-ED: Tackling a public health menace

  • Published at 01:50 am December 1st, 2020
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It is time to address the problem of second hand smoking in Bangladesh

According to a World Health Organization Official Publication, current evidence suggests that the severity of Covid-19 disease is higher among smokers. Undoubtedly, it is high time for smokers to quit smoking.

Moreover, from the PLoS One journal, Volume 10, Issue 10, we know that existing studies show that smoking and passive smoking might equally increase the risk of certain diseases, such as breast cancer, allergic rhinitis, allergic dermatitis, and food allergy. As a matter of fact, we have to be as careful about passive smoking as we are about smoking, as it can be equally harmful for the body during the Covid-19 pandemic.

People all over the world, including Bangladesh, need to travel for work and recreational activities from one city to another city and from one country to another country; there is no alternative to staying in hotels and eating food in restaurants while they are outside.

According to GATS (2017) Survey results in Bangladesh, almost 93.1% people (95.7% male and 90.7% female) believe that non-smokers are severely affected due to passive smoking. Hence, a large population in Bangladesh understands that passive smoking causes severe threats to their surrounding non-smokers.

We know that second hand smoke can cause vital damage to the body. For instance, if we take a closer look at the Journal of Hypertension, Volume 35, Issue 10, it has been written that “Studies have shown that Second Hand Smoke Exposure (SHSE) increases the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) by 25–30%.” We all know that the heart is a vital organ of the human body which has to be taken care of the most, at all times, to live a healthy life.

Moreover, in the International Journal of Statistics in Medical Research, it has been strongly established through authentic evidence that passive smoking leads to morbidity and mortality. The enemy has been identified, now let the war begin.

Now, we know the health harms. But what is the reason for second hand smoking being so much higher in Bangladesh? In the journal, Nicotine and Tobacco Research, Volume 17, Issue 1, it has been mentioned: “The population of Bangladesh is highly susceptible to second hand smoke (SHS) exposure due to high smoking rates and low awareness about the harmful effects of SHS.” Now, both factors are unhealthy for the mass people during the pandemic, which should be given more importance and acted upon by the concerned authorities.

Let us take a closer look at the law. According to Section 4 of the Bangladesh Tobacco Control Law, it is prohibited to smoke in public places and on public transport. But reality tells us another story. Even in the Covid-19 pandemic, people are smoking in hotels and restaurants, violating the tobacco control law and badly affecting other non-smokers.

Every problem has a solution. The solution to the problem of second hand smoke leads to one door -- the removal of designated smoking areas in the hospitality sector. Another thing that we have to address is the conflict between the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) and the Bangladesh Tobacco Control Law. In FCTC there is no restriction of designated smoking areas, whereas in Bangladesh Tobacco Control Law (2015), Section 4, smoking is strictly prohibited in all public places.

Besides, in Section 7(e) of the Bangladesh Tobacco Control Law, it has also been mentioned, “According to the rule of article (d), after requesting a person not to smoke, if they continue smoking, the person responsible for the premises can expel the smoker, refrain to provide them any service, and take assistance from law and order agencies.” There are punishments for smoking in public places, but they are not as effective as they would be if designated smoking areas in hotels and restaurants were removed.

Now, the Bangladesh government should immediately amend the law to remove designated smoking areas in the hospitality sector, considering the public health concern. The Covid-19 pandemic is the right time for this change, which can save ample lives and also reduce the treatment cost of those suffering.

In this way, we can also gradually move towards fulfilling Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s public commitment of making Bangladesh a tobacco-free country by 2040. 

Not only would it augment the image of our government in the country, but it would also enhance our image in the international domain, which can be a lifetime achievement for our country.

Muhammed Rubayet is currently working as Media Manager, Health Sector, Dhaka Ahsania Mission. He can be reached at [email protected]

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