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Study recommends amending law to end interference of tobacco Industry

  • Published at 05:49 pm November 28th, 2020
Representational photo

According to the study, the tobacco industry has used CSR programs as a pretense to get closer to policymakers, government officials, and administration  

Bangladesh has scored 68 in the Tobacco Industry Interference Index 2020 meaning that the country is still highly vulnerable to the interference of the tobacco industry. 

Such findings have been presented in a study report titled, “Tobacco Industry Interference Index: FCTC Article 5.3 Implementation Report, Bangladesh,” unveiled on Saturday in Dhaka. 

The study report was disclosed through an online zoom webinar, jointly organized by research and advocacy organization PROGGA (Knowledge for Progress) and Anti-Tobacco Media Alliance (ATMA), reports a press release published on Saturday.

The study shows that the tobacco industry has used the Corporate Social Responsibilities (CSR) programs of companies as a pretense to get closer to policymakers, government officials, and administration in order to exploit this connection to extract different benefits and to interfere in tobacco control activities. 

In his speech as the chief guest of the event Saber Hossain Chowdhury MP, chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Environment, Forestry and Climate Change, said tobacco is an essential product but only for causing death, not for life. 

“I have already submitted a Private Member’s Bill to exclude tobacco from the list of essential commodities,” he said. 

He also added that to provide tobacco companies incentives from Covid-19 stimulus fund is totally unacceptable. 

The special guest of the event Muhammad Ruhul Quddus, former additional secretary of Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) and former coordinator of National Tobacco Control Cell (NTCC) said the government has recently taken steps to amend the Tobacco Control Act.

The MoHFW besides its own, should undertake awareness raising of non-health sectors, particularly in vulnerable ministries such as Finance Ministry, Industries Ministry, Commerce Ministry and Agriculture Ministry about Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC)’s Article 5.3 obligations so that these ministries become aware of recurring and multi-faceted interferences of tobacco industry especially during the ongoing amendment process of tobacco control law, he added.

Prof Dr AAMS Arefin Siddique, chairman of Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS) and president of the event, said that Covid-19 has pointed out how detrimental tobacco use can be. 

Tobacco use prevalence is such a problem which can not be tackled only by the sole effort of MoHFW. All ministries should make a concerted effort to curb this havoc.

The discussants' panel included Bangladesh Country Adviser of Vital Strategies Md Shafiqul Islam, National Professional Officer of WHO Dr Syed Mahfuzul Huq, Technical Adviser of the Union Syed Mahbubul Alam, Grants Manager of Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids (CTFK) MA Salam, and Executive Director of PROGGA ABM Zubair. Mortuza Haider Liton, convener of Anti-Tobacco Media Alliance (ATMA), delivered the welcome address. 

News Editor of ATN Bangladesh and Co-Convenor of Anti-Tobacco Media Alliance (ATMA) Nadira Kiron hosted this program while the findings of the study were presented by Md Hasan Shahriar, head of Tobacco Control Program, PROGGA.

The study

Study reports show that other than interfering in policymaking, tobacco companies have publicized their CSR activities as much as possible to salvage their corporate image among the public.

On September 25, 2019, BAT Bangladesh donated a hefty sum of money to Bangladesh Labour Welfare Foundation.

BATB representatives handed the cheque over to the state minister for Labour and Employment. The news and pictures of the event were later publicized on the ministry’s official Facebook page. 

Liaison with the National Board of Revenue (NBR) has been utilized by the tobacco industry as its conduit to interfere in the formulation of National Tobacco Control Policy. 

Following the request from Bangladesh Cigarette Manufacturers' Association (BCMA), NBR requested the MoHFW to consider the industry’s opinion before finalizing the National Tobacco Control Policy although WHO FCTC states that under no circumstance shall the tobacco industry be involved in the formulation of tobacco control policies.

The MoHFW did not accommodate any of the tobacco industry’s unsolicited opinions on the draft National Tobacco Control Policy during the study period, which is undoubtedly a positive sign. 

NBR also reduced the supplementary duty on non-filter bidi from 35% to 30% by issuing a Statutory Regulatory Order (SRO) to accommodate the demands raised by the bidi industry. 

Moreover, in a sharp contrast to the prime minister’s vision of a tobacco-free Bangladesh by 2040, the Japanese Ambassador to Bangladesh in a bi-lateral meeting with the industries minister requested him to bring "rational" changes in the country's excise tax on tobacco products based on the fact that Japan Tobacco generates large amounts of revenue for the government.

In the recommendations of the study, it has been stressed that all types of CSR activities of tobacco companies must be banned through an amendment of the law. 

Besides, it has been recommended to make other ministries aware of the obligation to comply with Article 5.3.

It should be noted that PROGGA has been conducting this study since 2018 to stress the need for the formulation of a policy in line with the FCTC Article 5.3 guidelines so that the tobacco industry can no longer interfere in the tobacco control activities of the government. The same study has been conducted in 57 countries this year. 

In the 2020 Index, Bangladesh has scored 68 which was 77 in the previous year. The greater the score, the stronger interference it indicates. 

The study was conducted with support from Bloomberg Philanthropies' Stopping Tobacco Organizations and Products (STOP), is part of a global publication of the Global Centre for Good Governance in Tobacco Control (GGTC) at the School of Global Studies in Thammasat University.

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