As the government set a target to turn Bangladesh into a tobacco-free country by 2040, experts think the desired success cannot be achieved without raising awareness among people, increasing the prices of tobacco products significantly and strictly enforcing the law.
They also said tobacco consumption cannot be reduced drastically if government does not declare it as an addictive drug in line with the World Health Organisation (WHO) declaration in 1988, and prevent farmers from cultivating tobacco.According to WHO, tobacco kills more than 8 million people each year in the world while it is the 5th major reason behind premature deaths in Bangladesh.
A report of Global Adult Tobacco (GAT) says around 161,000 people are dying every year in Bangladesh for tobacco use.
In 2016, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina announced to make the country free from tobacco by 2040 amid the falling trend of tobacco use.
Later, on October 16, 2017, the cabinet approved the draft of “The Health Development Surcharge Management Policy-2017” aiming to control the use of tobacco products.
Talking to UNB, Dr Mahfuz Kabir, Research Director of Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies, said the government must have a proper strategy to curb tobacco consumption.
“It’s difficult to ban tobacco products since the government is collecting huge tax from the sector. But both the tax and prices of the products should be increased substantially so that these harmful items go beyond the buying capacity of general people,” he said.Dr Mahfuz also said the availability of tobacco products is a big challenge to curbing its use. “So, there’s no alternative to increasing awareness among people about the bad effects of tobacco products.”
He said the government needs to give adequate allocation to control the use of tobacco and create mass awareness against the adverse impacts of tobacco on human health and prevent farmers from cultivating tobacco and creating alternative job opportunities for them.
Md Hasan Shahriar, project coordinator of Progga, an anti-tobacco organisation, said the demand and supply of tobacco products must be reduced.
“The government wants to build a tobacco-free Bangladesh, but it also has 10 percent share with British American Tobacco Bangladesh,” he observed.
Shahriar said tobacco companies are getting various facilities from the government and they are also interfering in formulation and implementation of tobacco control policies and measures. “As long as such a situation persists, it won’t be possible to achieve the target of having a tobacco-free country.”
He said the government should be stricter on enforcing anti-smoking laws and focusing on raising revenue from the sector.
Former NBR chairman Dr Nasiruddin Ahmed said the prices of tobacco products are very low in Bangladesh compared to the neighbouring countries. “Poor people don’t care about health as they have access to cheaper cigarettes.”
“Bangladesh’s tobacco taxation structure is very complex. So it should be reformed soon. The total revenue collected from tobacco products was Tk 22,866.91 crore while health cost stood at Tk 30,570 crore in 2018,” he pointed out.
Nasiruddin said the government should stop giving awards for “the highest taxpayers” or the “longest-serving taxpayer” ones or any other recognition to individuals or firms involved in the tobacco sector.
Tamak Birodhi Nari Jote Coordinator Syeda Akter said the tobacco companies are violating Smoking and Tobacco Products Usage (Control) Act, 2005 but the government is silent. “So, how’ll the government build tobacco free-country by 2040?
She also said the prices of non-smoking tobacco products like Bidi, Gul, Jorda’s should also be increased expressively as those are seriously harming the public health like cigarette.
Sayeda said local producers are illegally producing low-quality cigarettes to attract poor people. “So, the government should increase monitoring and enforce the law to stop it.”
Dr Md Rizwannul Karim (Shameem), Program Manager of Non Communicable Disease Control (NCDC) of Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), said they have taken many initiatives to build tobacco-free country by 2040.
Government has increased budgetary allocation to five times to execute its measures to reduce tobacco consumption. Most allocation is spent for research and creating awareness among people,” he added.
Agriculture Minister Dr Md Abdur Razzaque said, “I think, we’ll be able to attain the goal of having a tobacco-free Bangladesh by 2040 if we can create awareness among people, enforce laws, and commercialise agricultural goods properly."
He said farmers should be encouraged to produce agricultural products instead of tobacco. "The domestic market should be expanded. Bangladesh is a country with a lot of potentials. We can export huge agricultural goods if we can further modernise the sector."
Planning Minister MA Mannan said they are taking necessary steps and plans to make the country free from tobacco within the given time as per the Prime Minister’s announcement.
“The Prime Minister is also aware of the matter and guiding us to control the use of tobacco goods and achieve the target,” he added.