Monday, 20 September, 2021
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Amendment to law a must to make Bangladesh free from tobacco by 2040

Habibe Millat tells the Daily Sun

Amendment to law a must to make Bangladesh free from tobacco by 2040
Habibe Millat

Chairman of Bangladesh Parliamentary Forum for Health and Wellbeing (BPFHW) Prof Dr Md Habibe Millat, MP has underscored the need for amending the existing tobacco control law immediately to make the country free from tobacco by 2040 as per the declaration of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

“Bangladesh is the first country which signed the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in the 55th Convention of WHO to discourage smoking and use of tobacco products on June 16, 2003 and initiated it on May 10, 2004. But unfortunately, the way the tobacco control activities are going on now, it might not be possible to make the country free from tobacco by the stipulated time,” he told the Daily Sun in a recent interview.

Habibe Millat, also a notable cardiac surgeon who worked in England and Ireland for more than a decade, said non-communicable diseases like heart disease, cancer, diabetes and kidney disease are responsible for 67 percent of the total deaths in Bangladesh. Non-communicable diseases are mainly speeding up due to unhealthy eating habits, lack of physical activity, tobacco use and many other reasons.

“That’s why it’s necessary to achieve tobacco-free Bangladesh by 2040 through bringing necessary amendment to the tobacco control law and increasing prices of tobacco products,” he added.

Mentioning that the Smoking and Tobacco Products Usage (Control) Act, 2005 which was amended in 2013 is the principal law governing tobacco control in Bangladesh, the lawmaker said it in many ways aligns with the international treaty, the WHO FCTC, but there are some key gaps in it.

Describing demerits of the use of tobacco, he said a study of Tobacco ATLAS estimates that tobacco use caused nearly 126,000 deaths accounting for 13.5 percent of deaths from any cause in Bangladesh in 2018.

Around 1.5 million adults were suffering from diseases attributable to tobacco use and nearly 61,000 children were suffering from diseases due to exposure to secondhand smoking. The estimate of the direct healthcare costs attributable to tobacco use amounts to Tk 83.9 billion annually.

“The annual productivity loss due to morbidity and premature mortality from tobacco-related diseases was estimated to be Tk 221.7 billion. The total annual economic cost thus amounted to Tk 305.6 billion ($3.61 billion), equivalent to 1.4 percent of the GDP of Bangladesh in 2017-18.”

The lawmaker said, on the other hand, the total economic contribution of the tobacco sector (in terms of household final consumption expenditure, private and public domestic investment and net export) to the GDP in Bangladesh was estimated at Tk 229.1 in 2016-17 fiscal year in 2018 prices. This is Tk 76.5 billion short of the estimated total cost of tobacco, Tk 305.6 billion. Tobacco thus appears to be causing significant net economic loss to Bangladesh.

Habibe Millat, also a member of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Foreign Ministry, said not only the tobacco and tobacco products, e-cigarettes or vaping have been added to the list of harmful effects as new threats as the e-cigarettes are actually a different form of cigarettes.

“E-cigarette has also various health risks like cigarettes. Its vapor can cause long-term damage to the respiratory system. E-cigarettes also contain toxic chemicals such as volatile organic compounds or VOCs, various particles, heavy metal particles and formaldehyde, which cause various complex diseases, including cancer. The nicotine in e-cigarettes is extremely dangerous for children and pregnant mothers. This high level of nicotine destroys the stem cells of the nerve system,” he said.

“It is important to ban this harmful product before it can be widely used. If the import, production, sale and use of e-cigarettes are banned in Bangladesh too, the young generation will be safe from a terrible health crisis,” the member of Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, Bangladesh Chapter said.

He said the Bangladesh Parliamentary Forum for Health and Wellbeing submitted a letter signed by 152 MPs to Health and Family Welfare Minister Zahid Maleque last month seeking the amendment to the laws. The letter recommended inclusion of six issues in the amended law following the WHO FCTC.

Habibe Millat, also a member of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Ministry of Science and Technology, said some 153 Members of Parliament under the banner of the BPFHW in a letter to the Prime Minister in March demanded banning import, production, sale, marketing and use of e-cigarettes in Bangladesh.

He said they have proposed that the government bring necessary amendments to the existing tobacco control act in a bid to save lives from the harmful effects of tobacco.

The proposals included removing the exemptions in the smoking ban for restaurants and public transport, banning the display of tobacco products at points of sale, banning tobacco companies’ ‘corporate social responsibility’ activities, banning the sale of single sticks and unpackaged smokeless tobacco, banning the sale and import of e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products and allowing for stricter rules on packaging, including an increase in the size of health warnings.

“If the above mentioned amendments are brought to the tobacco control law and implemented effectively, it’ll turn into a powerful tool to reduce the devastating consequences of tobacco and smokeless tobacco products in Bangladesh and it’ll also help save a large number of lives and huge economic loss of the country,” the lawmaker of constituency Sirajganj-2 said.