Anti-tobacco platforms have demanded that the government introduce stricter tobacco control laws and ban sales of bidi and cigarette sticks in pieces.
Progga (Knowledge for Progress) and Anti-Tobacco Media Alliance (Atma) organised a webinar on the necessity of tobacco control laws in Bangladesh on Saturday to update the current tobacco control laws.
Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Saber Hossain Chowdhury, who was present at the programme as the chief guest, said we need to demand a tobacco eradication law rather than demanding a tobacco control law because Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina announced six years ago that Bangladesh would be a tobacco-free country by 2040, and we have to take steps to implement it.
While presenting the keynote address on the current law amendment, Progga's Head of Tobacco Control Md Hassan Shahriar said children, teenagers, and youngsters can easily afford to buy bidis, cigarettes when single sticks are sold in retail levels. Moreover, they cannot see the pictorial health warning on the packet due to the loose sale.
As many as 118 countries around the world, including Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, have banned the sale of small packets and single cigarette sticks. The retail sale of cigarette sticks has been banned in the Indian state of Maharashtra since 24 September last year.
The keynote paper states that the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, initiated by the World Health Organisation (WHO), must enact and enforce laws to ban the sale of single or small packets of bidis, cigarettes, and tobacco products.
Coordinator and Additional Secretary of the National Tobacco Control Cell, Hossain Ali Khandaker said, the initiative has been taken to amend the law by incorporating the proposed amendments to the law, but we have to look at the implementation of the law. Laws are banning open smoking, but for various reasons, it is not being enforced properly.
Prominent economist Dr Kazi Khaliquzzaman Ahmed, convener of the National Anti-Tobacco Forum, presided over the webinar and said we need to create awareness among people about the harmful effects of tobacco. If there is no commitment among those who are working on making the law, then the work will not progress.
The speakers said tobacco causes death and is conducive to Covid-19 infection. According to the WHO, tobacco use increases the risk of contracting Covid-19. Currently, about 40 million tobacco users in the country are at serious risk of Covid-19 infection and death. Therefore, it is time to update the current tobacco control law.
Among others, renowned actor Abul Hayat; Manjurul Ahsan Bulbul, eminent journalist and editor-in-chief of TV Today; Abdul Qayyum, associate editor of the daily Prothom Alo; Shahnaz Munni, the chief news editor of News 24; Popular model and sports organiser Mohammad Faisal Ahsan Ullah; Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids Bangladesh's Lead Policy Advisor Md Mostafizur Rahman, and WHO's National Professional Officer Dr Syed Mahfuzul Haque were present.
Nadira Kiran, co-convener of Atma, conducted the event.
Progga and Atma proposed to amend the following: ensuring a 100% smoke-free environment by banning smoking in all public places, workplaces and public transport, including the abolition of designated places for smoking; prohibiting the display of tobacco products at the point of sale; a complete ban on tobacco companies' corporate social responsibility programme activities; prohibit the retail sale of bidi-cigarettes, and unpacked zarda and gul, etc; prohibit the import and sale of all emerging tobacco products including e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products, and to increase the size of the pictorial health warnings on packets to 90%.