The government is considering imposing a ban on smoking Esse cigarettes at factories and educational institutions, the law minister says. Attending a discussion organised by the National Anti Tuberculosis Association of Bangladesh (NATAB) on Thursday, Shafique Ahmed said the government would be doing everything needed to ensure public health and healthy environment for all.
Under the current law of 2005, smoking at public places is barred and offenders are penalised Tk 50, but no steps are there yet against the producers.
However, later in 2006, a guideline was formulated.
The minister said the draft of a ‘stricter law’ was under the health ministry’s consideration and “it’ll soon be tabled in the cabinet for initial approval, and will later be sent to the law ministry for final nod”.
“We’ll see how it can be made more effective and acceptable,” said Shafique, emphasising that implementation of the law was more important than its mere existence.
“It (smoking) can be prevented if coordination is struck between the lawmakers and law enforcers,” he added.
The draft proposes increasing the penalty for individuals to Tk 500 and Tk 1 million for companies violating the law.
Smokeless tobacco products, like zarda, sada pata and gul, have been incorporated as ‘tobacco products’ in the draft law that suggests pictorial health warnings covering 50 percent of a cigarette packet to discourage smokers.
At least 40 countries in the world have forced tobacco companies to use such warnings.
Restaurants will be declared smoke-free and duty-free shops will not be able to sell ‘duty-free’ cigarettes once the draft law comes into effect.
Besides, children below 18 years of age will be barred to sell and buy cigarettes, as studies suggest two-thirds of smokers in Bangladesh pick up the habit before their 17th birthday.
The law minister also pointed out that multinational tobacco businesses are spending billions of taka over promoting smoking.
“There are many multinational companies who spend millions to encourage smoking. They have many different programmes in the Third World countries like ours,” Shafique said.
NATAB co-ordinator Sagufta Sultana insisted that there should be a law to restrict tobacco cultivation.
“Due to controversies and absence of ban on selling cigarettes to adolescents, the campaigns to prevent smoking and tobacco use are hindered,” she added.
NATAB member Dr Yasin Ali and vice-president Mujaffar Hossain Poltu also spoke at the programme, among others.
According to the Global Adult Tobacco Survey 2009, about 41.3 million people aged above 15 use tobacco either in smoke or smokeless form in Bangladesh. The number was 32.3 million in 2007.
The World Health Organisation observes that annually 57,000 deaths and 382,000 disabilities in Bangladesh were due to tobacco use. Stricter anti-tobacco law should be in place, it says.
Campaigners say bureaucratic failure delayed the process of amendment of the law that started over two years ago.
They also suggest strong awareness campaigns in schools to curb the rising trend of tobacco use.