Bangladesh is significantly lagging behind in achieving global tobacco control benchmark. The Designated Smoking Areas (DSAs), as allowed by the existing tobacco control law, is a major contributor to Bangladesh’s lack of progress. Speakers discussed this today (17 September 2023, Sunday) during a virtual discussion titled “WHO Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic, 2023 & the Bangladesh Situation”, organized by PROGGA and Anti Tobacco Media Alliance (ATMA) with support from Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids (CTFK).
It was informed during the virtual discussion that WHO’s recent report has drawn major focus on ensuring smoke-free environment, an issue of grave importance for Bangladesh. DSAs in hotels, restaurants, and various other public places, as allowed by the current law, fail to protect both non-smokers as well as service employees from passive smoke. While a number of southeast Asian countries, such as Thailand, Nepal, Afghanistan have performed satisfactorily in the indicator involving smoke-free environment, Bangladesh is lagging considerably behind. However, the draft amendment to the tobacco control law, which includes a proposed provision to eliminate DSAs in public places, can help Bangladesh reach the ranks of best-practice countries.
According to the report, Bangladesh ranks as ‘moderate’ in banning tobacco advertisement, promotion and sponsorship (TAPS). But to improve its position, Bangladesh must realize the proposed ban on the display of tobacco products at points-of-sale and ban on corporate social responsibilities (CSR) programs of tobacco companies. A total of 50 countries have already banned display of tobacco products placements at points of sale while 62 countries have completely banned CSR of tobacco companies.
The discussants of the virtual event also said that, the Honorable Prime Minister has provided the directive to strengthen the tobacco control law to align it with WHO FCTC and also to build a tobacco-free Bangladesh by 2040. Against this backdrop, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) has taken the initiative to amend the tobacco control law. A draft amendment is now awaiting the approval from the Cabinet. The speakers urged the government to present the draft amendment in the Cabinet Division for approval without delay.
In the virtual discussion, distinguished economist and the convener of the National Anti-Tobacco Platform, Dr. Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad said, “It should be considered as a matter of shame that we are lagging behind even Afghanistan and Nepal in achieving a total smoke-free environment. We must keep working to get this draft amendment passed and not allow ourselves to get frustrated.”
Hossain Ali Khondkar, Coordinator (Additional Secretary), the National Tobacco Control Cell (NTCC) said, “If we can pass the proposals put forth in the draft amendment, we will see the position of our country climb up in the next global tobacco control report of WHO. However, tobacco companies are working to thwart the progress we have already made. We must remain cautious in this regard.”
Md. Mostafizur Rahman, Lead Policy Advisor, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (CTFK)- Bangladesh said, “A smoker does not have any moral right to harm the well-being of a non-smoker. The draft amendment with the proposition to eliminate DSAs must be passed at the earliest.”
Minar Mansur, Poet, Journalist, and Director, National Book Centre, said, “In addition to creating a strong legal basis for tobacco control, we must also create mass awareness in this regard.”
Dr. Syed Mahfuzul Haque, National Professional Officer, WHO Bangladesh said, “Once finalized and adopted, the provisions included in the draft amendment will help Bangladesh claim its own place among the ranks of best-practice countries in tobacco control.”
Shahnaz Munni, Novelist and Chief News Editor of News24, said, “We are getting exposed to secondhand smoke everyday at hotels and restaurants. This is the consequence of allowing designated smoking areas in our law. The provision that allows DSAs must be eliminated.”
Sadia Galiba Prova, Coordinator of PROGGA, hosted the event whereas Hasan Shahriar, Head of Programs, PROGGA, presented the findings during the virtual discussion which was participated by Mortuza Haider Liton, Convenor of Anti Tobacco Media Alliance (ATMA); ABM Zubair, Executive Director, PROGGA and representatives of different anti-tobacco organizations.
It should be mentioned that according to the 2017 Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS), 42.7% of the adults who work in indoor workplaces fall victim to passive smoking. About 25 million adults face secondhand smoke in public transportation. Almost 61,000 children suffer from different illnesses caused by exposure to secondhand smoke. Tobacco-induced diseases also claim an average of 442 lives every day in Bangladesh.