Speakers recommend amendment to law for tobacco-free Bangladesh

FE Online Report | Wednesday, 16 June 2021

Although the number of smokers has decreased in Bangladesh over the years, it is not adequate to make the country tobacco-free by 2040, Information Minister Hasan Mahmud has said at a workshop organised by VOICE with the members of Law Reporter’s Forum.

The workshop titled “The Necessity of Law Amendment” was held at Nasrul Hamid auditorium of Dhaka Reporter’s Unity on Wednesday.

Speaking as the chief guest, the minister said an impetuous anti-tobacco campaign is necessary to make the country tobacco-free.

Executive director of VOICE Ahmed Swapan Mahmud moderated the event.

Eminent personalities, including the editor-in-chief of TV Today Monjurul Ahsan Bulbul, President of Dhaka Reporter’s Unity Mursalin Nomani, Head of Epidemiology and Research of National Heart Foundation Professor Sohel Reza Chowdhury, Head of Tobacco Control Program of Progga, Hasan Shahriar, Lead Policy Advisor of CTFK Mostafizur Rahman were present in the workshop.

Both the organisations hoped to work together in this regard.

During the discussion, the panellists said although the per capita income of people has increased throughout the last decade in our country, the prices of tobacco has not increased accordingly. The difficulties of curbing consumption are attributed to the availability of the product. In this context, the amendment of tobacco law can serve an important role in reducing tobacco consumption.

The project coordinator of VOICE Zayed Siddiki presented the keynote paper.

The paper said Bangladesh is one of the countries with the highest rate of tobacco consumption with 35.3 per cent of the nation’s grown-ups addicted to tobacco.

According to Global Tobacco Atlas 2020, around 1,61,000 people lost their lives to tobacco consumption last year. The annual economic expense spent on tobacco amounts to Tk 3,000 billion.

Monjurul Ahsan Bulbul said tobacco has no single positive impact on health.

Realising the dangers of smoking and tobacco products, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina declared to make Bangladesh tobacco-free by 2040 in South Asian Speakers conference on 2016," he said.

He asked the journalists to investigate the existing tobacco law and policies and find out if they are befitting to prime minister’s declaration.

It should be noted that the government took some notable measures in this regard. The first one of them was amending the existing Smoking and Tobacco Products Usage (Control) Act, 2005 in 2013 and introducing the tobacco usage act in 2015. The steps have remarkably reduced the rate of tobacco consumption.

Doctor Sohel Reza said, “People at an early age are having heart attacks in our country and 41 per cent of the times it happens due to the consumption of tobacco. He said if we fail to amend the laws and reduce tobacco consumption, we will not be able to provide a healthy world to the next generation”

An additional 38.4 million people are falling victims to second-hand smoking without taking any puff of cigarette.

However, the tobacco control head of Progga Hasan Shahrial said that though the initiatives have reduced the usage of tobacco by 18 per cent from 2009 to 2017 it is not enough to make Bangladesh tobacco free by 2040.

Grant’s manager of CTFK, Abdus Salam said there are some loopholes in the existing law such as allowing designated smoking area in public places, restaurants and public transports that are not confined within four walls, it does not specify anything about product display in point of sales (POS), allowing corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities of tobacco companies.

He said the law also allows sell of loose cigarettes and the size of health warning on tobacco packet is not fixed which fails to abstain young smoker from smoking.

He asked to address these loopholes in the law as well as addressing emerging tobacco products like e-cigarettes.

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