‘Country still highly vulnerable to tobacco industry interference’

Staff Correspondent

29 November, 2020 12:00 AM printer

Bangladesh has scored 68 in the tobacco industry interference index 2020, which means that the country is still highly vulnerable to the interference of the tobacco industry, said a study. 

The study further said tobacco companies have managed to exploit the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic to the fullest for their benefit. 

“The tobacco companies have particularly used the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) as a pretence to infiltrate into policymaking and administration and extract a variety of benefits,” it said.

The findings of the study report titled  ‘Tobacco Industry Interference Index: FCTC Article 5.3 Implementation Report, Bangladesh’ was disclosed at a virtual meeting on Saturday.

The function was jointly organised by research and advocacy organisation PROGGA (Knowledge for Progress) and Anti-Tobacco Media Alliance (ATMA).

According to the study report, while Bangladesh has made progress to some extent in the implementation of WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) Article 5.3, the score of the interference of the tobacco companies is not satisfactory at all.

Speaking at the meeting, Saber Hossain Chowdhury MP, the Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Environment, Forestry and Climate Change, said tobacco is an essential product but only for causing death, not for life. 

“I have already submitted a Private Member’s Bill to exclude tobacco from the list of essential commodities,” he said, adding that providing tobacco companies with incentives from Covid-19 stimulus fund is totally unacceptable.

At the meeting, Muhammad Ruhul Quddus, former additional secretary of Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and former Coordinator of National Tobacco Control Cell (NTCC), said the government has recently taken steps to amend Tobacco Control Act.

Prof Dr AAMS Arefin Siddique, chairman of Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS), presided over the meeting.

Tobacco use prevalence is such a problem which cannot be tackled by the sole effort of the health and family welfare ministry, Prof Arefin said, adding that all ministries should make a combined effort to this end.

The study shows that the tobacco industry has used CSR programmes of companies as a pretence to get closer to policymakers, government officials and administration in order to exploit this connection to extract different benefits and to interfere in tobacco control activities.

In addition, the companies have publicised their CSR activities as much as possible to salvage their corporate image among the public. 

In the recommendations of the study, it has been emphasised that all types of CSR activities of tobacco companies must be banned through an amendment of the law. 

Besides, it has recommended that other ministries should be made aware of the obligation to comply with Article 5.3. 

It is mentionable that the non-government anti-tobacco campaigning organisation PROGGA has been conducting this study since 2018 to stress the need for the formulation of a policy in line with the FCTC Article 5.3 guidelines so that the tobacco industry can no longer interfere in the tobacco control activities of the government. 

The same study has been conducted in 57 countries this year. In the Global Index of Tobacco Industry Interference, Bangladesh has placed itself in the 27th position. 

Bangladesh still presents the worst scenario when it comes to tobacco industry interference among its South Asian peers. In the 2020 index, Bangladesh has scored 68 which was 77 in the previous year.