Making government institutions smoke-free: practical experience from Bangladesh
Promotion of smoke-free places in Bangladesh became much easier, though by no means guaranteed, following passage of a comprehensive tobacco control law. Prior to law passage, small ventures to make places (such as a restaurant, a bus service, and an amusement park) smoke-free required lots of work for limited results. Many people were not interested in supporting the campaign as it was not required by law. Following law passage in 2000 most tobacco advertising promptly disappeared but the law was not wholly enforced, particularly as regards smoke-free areas. The local NGO WBB Trust (Work for a Better Bangladesh), supported by The Union, thus changed its focus to supporting law implementation, with a focus on smoke-free government institutions.
The first major success involved an enormous effort. WBB staff worked with its network members from throughout the country to make local police stations smoke-free. In the campaign, people took advantage of existing relationships with government officials. It was decided to choose an easy police station (Ramna Model Thana) and make it a model. It is important to highlight successes as we go to show possibilities and keep people motivated. Following the well-publicized success with Ramna, Dhaka Metropolitan Police made all police stations in Dhaka smoke-free. At that point it required little additional effort to convince the Home Ministry to declare all police stations in the whole country smoke-free. That move generated much appreciation from network members including letters and newspaper articles congratulating government on its pro-health action. While WBB distributed some signs, government produced and distributed many others.
Thanks to the experience of that successful campaign and the good feeling generated through the letters and newspaper coverage, it then became easier to work with other institutions. Tobacco control advocates worked with the government, which quickly made universities, post offices, the Environment Department, security forces, fire services/civil defence, and the Tourist Corporation smoke-free. As a result, a total of 15,080 places were made smoke-free, which are regularly visited by 8.4 million people. Key lessons learned include the possibility of starting on a small scale but scaling up quickly following initial success, and the importance of providing positive feedback to agencies, government and otherwise, for making their venues smoke-free.