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World No Tobacco Day: Protect children from tobacco company interference

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  • Rezaur Rahman Rizvi

Today, 31st May, is World No Tobacco Day—a global observance aimed at raising awareness about the harmful effects of tobacco and advocating for effective policies to reduce tobacco consumption. In Bangladesh, this day has been marked with various programs for the past two decades. This year’s theme, “Protecting Children from Tobacco Industry Interference,” underscores the urgent need to shield our youth from the manipulative tactics of the tobacco industry. As the future of our nation, children must be protected from falling prey to the harmful allure of tobacco products.

The Threat to Our Next Generation:

Children are the future of our society, and their health and well-being are paramount. Unfortunately, tobacco companies target young people to secure a new generation of customers. By making tobacco products easily accessible and attractive to children, these companies aim to create lifelong addicts. The presence of mobile vendors around schools and the availability of tobacco products in local shops further exacerbate this issue. Despite existing regulations, enforcement remains lax, allowing children under 18 to purchase tobacco products with ease.

Tobacco companies use various tactics to appeal to the younger demographic, such as colorful packaging, flavored products, and targeted marketing campaigns. These strategies are designed to make tobacco use appear glamorous and appealing. The consequences are dire: children who start using tobacco at a young age are more likely to become lifelong smokers, leading to severe health problems and reduced life expectancy.

The Deadly Impact of Tobacco:

Tobacco is a lethal product with no redeeming qualities. It is a leading cause of preventable death globally, linked to six of the eight leading causes of such deaths. According to the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) 2017, nearly half of all tobacco users succumb to tobacco-related diseases such as heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and various cancers. In Bangladesh alone, over 161,000 people die annually from these diseases. Additionally, second-hand smoke harms millions more, contributing to a significant public health burden.

The statistics are alarming: tobacco users have a 57% higher risk of developing tobacco-related diseases, and a 109% higher risk of developing cancers linked to tobacco. The impact on public health is profound, straining healthcare systems and causing economic losses due to reduced productivity and healthcare costs. It is imperative to address this issue comprehensively to protect public health and save lives.

 Global and National Efforts to Combat Tobacco:

The fight against tobacco is gaining momentum worldwide. The World Health Organization’s Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic 2021 highlights significant progress, with 34% of countries implementing complete smoking bans. As of 2021, 67 countries, covering a quarter of the world’s population, have enacted such bans. This is a stark improvement from 2007, when only 10 countries had such regulations.

In Bangladesh, the government has made strides in tobacco control. The Honourable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s announcement in 2016 to eliminate tobacco use by 2040 was a groundbreaking commitment. This initiative, along with the Smoking and Tobacco Use (Control) Act of 2005 and subsequent amendments, reflects a strong legal framework. However, continuous adaptation and enforcement are essential to counter the evolving strategies of the tobacco industry.

The Tobacco Control Act has been pivotal in reducing tobacco use, but challenges remain. Public awareness campaigns, stricter enforcement of laws, and higher taxes on tobacco products are needed to deter tobacco use. Collaboration with international organizations and sharing best practices can further strengthen national efforts to combat tobacco use.

 The Rise of E-Cigarettes and New Challenges:

With technological advancements, new challenges have emerged in the form of e-cigarettes and other electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS). Marketed as a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes, e-cigarettes pose significant health risks, including heart disease, stroke, lung damage, and cancer. The increasing popularity of e-cigarettes among youth is alarming, as it can lead to nicotine addiction and hinder brain development.

E-cigarettes contain harmful chemicals, including nicotine, which is highly addictive. The liquid used in e-cigarettes, known as e-liquid, contains propylene glycol, glycerin, and various flavorings that can produce toxic substances when heated. The long-term health effects of e-cigarettes are still being studied, but evidence suggests they can cause serious health issues.

 Need for Stronger Regulations:

Many countries, including India, have recognized the dangers of e-cigarettes and have implemented bans or severe restrictions. Bangladesh, where e-cigarette usage is still relatively low, has a unique opportunity to prevent a future public health crisis by enacting stringent regulations now. Prohibiting the sale and import of e-cigarettes and related products can safeguard our youth from this emerging threat.

In addition to banning e-cigarettes, other measures can be taken to protect public health. These include restricting advertising and promotion of e-cigarettes, increasing public awareness about their risks, and ensuring that existing tobacco control laws encompass new tobacco products. Strong regulatory frameworks and robust enforcement are crucial to preventing a new generation of nicotine addicts.

So on this World No Tobacco Day, it is crucial to reaffirm our commitment to protecting children from tobacco industry interference. Strengthening existing laws, ensuring rigorous enforcement, and addressing new challenges like e-cigarettes are vital steps towards a tobacco-free future. By doing so, we can secure a healthier and brighter future for the next generation, free from the devastating impact of tobacco.

Together, we can create a world where children grow up without the shadow of tobacco, empowering them to lead healthier, longer lives. Let us stand united against the tobacco industry’s tactics and make our society a safer place for all.

By taking decisive action today, we can protect our children from the harmful effects of tobacco and ensure a healthier, smoke-free future for all. Let us honor World No Tobacco Day by committing to these goals and working together to achieve a tobacco-free world.

 

Author: Rezaur Rahman Rizvi, Columnist and Anthropologist

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