Public health experts in the country have urged the government to formulate more stringent laws against tobacco use considering the economic loss and health risks posed by it.
The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has already formulated the draft amendment to the Smoking and Using of Tobacco Products (Control) Act, 2005.
Bangladesh Parliamentary Forum for Health and Wellbeing (BPFHW) called for the speedy approval of this draft at an event titled "Tobacco Control Law Amendment for Achieving Tobacco-Free Bangladesh by 2040" at the Jatiya Press Club on Saturday.
BPFHW, formed with parliamentarians, is working on amending the existing Tobacco Products (Control) law to achieve a tobacco-free Bangladesh announced by the prime minister.
Speaking as the chief guest at the event, Prof Dr Habibe Millat MP said, "Bangladesh is one of the top tobacco-consuming countries in the world and the price of tobacco products is lowest here. Besides, the fine for smoking in public places is only Tk300 according to the existing law."
"The law needs to be toughened and we (BPFHW) have sent a letter, signed by 153 MPs, to the prime minister, which is an unprecedented move. There was a time when lawmakers wrote letters on behalf of tobacco but the situation has changed," he added.
Dr Nizam Uddin Ahmed, a public health expert and the executive director of the Shastho Shurokkha Foundation, said, "Some issues need to be addressed through this amendment, which includes a complete ban on smoking in public places and public transport, and a ban on the display of tobacco products in sales outlets."
"The health warnings illustrated on packets of tobacco products should be increased in size. A complete ban needs to be imposed on the corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities of the tobacco companies, and on the sale of single stick or unpacked bidi-cigarettes," he said, adding that the sale of e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products (HTP) should also be banned.
Speakers at the event said that the tobacco companies are very powerful, and they are taking various steps to prevent the approval of the amendments to the Tobacco Control Act.
The companies are trying to mislead people by talking about tobacco workers losing their jobs and the loss of revenue generated by tobacco companies, speakers said.
The government has already rehabilitated the tobacco farmers in Naogaon. If the water transport workers can find another profession after the inauguration of the Jamuna and Padma bridges, then the tobacco farmers can also go to other professions, they said.
The government spends more annually on the treatment of tobacco-related diseases than the tobacco companies give the government in revenue. Therefore, the amended draft law cannot be delayed at the instigation of tobacco companies.
Around 35.3% (3.78 crores) of adults, over the age of 15, in the country consume tobacco products and some 3.84 crores of adults are exposed to secondhand smoke in public places including workplaces and transport. About 441 people die prematurely from tobacco-related diseases in Bangladesh every day, speakers reiterated at the event.