Multinational cigarette companies are proactively spreading misinformation to prevent improvements to the tobacco control act and thwart government efforts to gradually transform Bangladesh into a smoke-free country by 2040, anti-smoking activists said at a press conference on 8 November.
Professor Dr Golam Mohiuddin Faruque, project director at the Bangladesh Cancer Society, Dr Sheikh Mohammad Mahbubus Sobhan, researcher at National Heart Foundation Hospital, and Professor Dr Qazi Mushtaq Hussain, chief of Bangladesh Society of Radiation Oncologists, were present among others at the event held at the Dhaka Reporters Unity in the capital.
In keeping with the country's population growth trend, getting rid of smoking will take a long time and for this reason Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has chosen 2040 as the deadline while endorsing gradual improvements in tobacco legislation to meet the target.
After its introduction in 2005, the Smoking and Tobacco Products Usage (Control) Act 2005, was amended in 2013, and even then, profit-driven cigarette companies opposed the legislative process. Despite their opposition citing hit to business interests, the two market-leading companies kept profit margins intact through tax evasion and other legal violations, speakers at the press briefing said.
Two foreign cigarette companies dominate the local market, and they make hardly any payments to compensate for the health disasters, economic trouble, and environmental pollution their products cause, despite raking in huge profits from the country.
The government wants to prevent as many teenagers as possible from starting to smoke to meet its 2040 goal, but the two market-leading companies wish to thwart the efforts. The companies wish to give the first taste of cigarettes to young minds so that a lasting habit is formed almost automatically and greedy businessmen can get the prolonged consumer base they need.
The belief that the tobacco industry is economically important is a myth. A study by the Bangladesh Cancer Society in 2018 found that almost Tk300 billion was spent on smoking-related medical issues in the year, as opposed to Tk220 billion earned in revenues from the sector – leaving a Tk8 billion hole in the national economy, anti-smoking activists noted.
That the tobacco companies pay hefty revenues is another myth. In 2020, a multinational company claimed to pay nearly Tk220.6 billion in taxes, but almost 96% of this sum was paid by consumers in the form of indirect taxes. The company only took money from the country while contributing very little towards the national budget, they added.
The government and other partners in the country's anti-smoking movement should encourage smokers to replace cigarettes with a healthy food diet, the activists concluded.