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Tobacco companies intend to victimize youths in drug addiction by weakening tobacco control laws - Speakers of BATA press conference

Most of the population consists of youth, aging 10-24, in Bangladesh. Tobacco companies target youths to get long term consumers. They are trying to influence ministries and government officials to weaken the policies. Ministry of Agriculture, National Bureau of Revenue, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Industries and Ministry of Commerce should prepare a road map to reduce tobacco cultivation and become less dependent financially on tobacco companies. It is not expected to favor tobacco companies and violate tobacco control law of Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

On 28th October 2019, Bangladesh anti Tobacco Alliance (BATA) organized a press conference on ‘Stop Tobacco Companies Influence on Policies to Protect Youths’ and speakers opined such in the program. Besides they urged to government to formulate a guideline and code of conduct according to international framework FCTC article 5.3 to stop tobacco companies’ influence.

The press conference was presided over by Chairman of Poribesh Bachao Andolon (POBA) and advisor of BATA Abu Naser Khan and speakers were- General Secretary of Protyasha anti-Drug Club Helal Ahmed, Tobacco Control Specialist Advocate Syed Mahbubul Alam, Special Correspondent of Jamuna Television Sushanto Sinha, Senior Reporter Nikhil Chandra Bhadra and Program manager of YPSA MD Nazmul Haider. Program manager of WBB Trust read the written document in the program and Tobacco Control Project Manager of ARK Foundation Hamidul Islam Hillol moderated it.

Helal Ahmed said that, activities of tobacco industries are similar to challenging Honorable Prime Minister’s declaration of making a tobacco-free Bangladesh.  As many relatives of government officials are working in tobacco sector, they are getting opportunity to influence tobacco control policies. In this circumstance, government officials should submit report about their duties, responsibilities and activities to government until they withdraw their share from tobacco companies.

Advocate Syed Mahbubul Alam said that, government has taken initiative to make tobacco-free Bangladesh by 2040. In this situation, to have government’s share in tobacco companies, government officials to be on tobacco companies’ board, Ministry of Agriculture having a committee to set price of tobacco leaves or providing tax facility to tobacco companies are controversial considering rule of Supreme Court and policies and activities of government. 

Nikhil Chandra Bhadra said that, recently tobacco companies are taking various ill strategies to promote tobacco and encourage youths to consume it. Such as- influencing Senior Secretary of Legislative and Parliamentary Affairs Department to weaken and delay provision of pictorial warning, organizing Battle of Mind campaign by BATB in private and public universities etc.

Sushanto Sinha said that, supplementary tax of bidi was reduced 5%. If tobacco companies are given facilities in such a manner, tobacco control program will be questioned by all. In last fiscal year, tobacco companies got 2000 crore taka tax waiver. Bangladesh Cigarette Manufacture Association provided distorted information to Industries, Agriculture, Finance and Health Ministry to stop passing draft tobacco control law.

Abu Naser Khan said that, tobacco companies want to make profit by weakening tobacco control law and policy. Now they are promoting e-cigarette by spreading false information. It is high time to prohibit their ill strategies, if not; government’s plan to protect public health will be a failure.

Following recommendations were presented in the press conference:

  • Formulating a guideline and code of conduct according to FCTC article 5.3.
  • Ensuring transparency and accountability while communicating with tobacco companies.
  • Publicly reveal duties and responsibilities of government officials who are members of board of tobacco companies.
  • It should be known to all, if relatives of government official (relevant with tobacco control policy) are working on tobacco companies.
  • Ministry of Agriculture, National Bureau of Revenue, Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Industries and Ministry of Commerce should prepare a road map to lessen financial dependency on tobacco. Also they should stop providing recommendations in favor of tobacco companies.
  • All discussion with tobacco companies should have record and all kinds of off the record discussion will be prohibited.