Prime Minister’s announcement to amend the Tobacco Control Act

Professor Dr. Md. Habibe Millat, Dhaka


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Probably no other country has spoken out against tobacco. Hon'ble Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has taken up the challenge. She has announced to make the country tobacco free by 2040. She has taken the initiative to become the Prime Minister of a country that ranks eighth in the world in tobacco cultivation. Undoubtedly, this initiative of the Hon'ble Prime Minister to build a healthy nation is encouraging and inspiring for us. With her announcement, anti-tobacco activities in the country have gained momentum, the results of which have already begun to be seen.

In addition to success, some challenges have been created that will stand in the way of tobacco cessation. Since anti-tobacco activities are centered on the Tobacco Control Act, many initiatives are being hampered by inconsistencies in existing laws. In that case, in order to build a tobacco-free Bangladesh within the time announced by the Hon'ble Prime Minister, it is time to review some aspects of the existing Tobacco Control Act. That is why it is necessary to amend the law in this regard.

Bangladesh is one of the first countries to sign the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). After signing the FCTC, the present government amended the law in 2013 by removing various flaws in the old tobacco control law. Then in 2015 the rules of the Tobacco Control Act were passed. With the foresight of the Hon'ble Prime Minister, the FTCT has been included in the Seventh Five-Year Plan to meet the health targets of the SDGs. In continuation of which it has been possible to integrate tobacco control activities with the mainstream development. The result is like cheering. Compared to 2009, the number of tobacco users has decreased by 18.5 percent by 2016. On the other hand, the number of smokers has increased over the same period.

'Achieving Sustainable Development Goals' held in Dhaka on 30-31 January 2017; at the closing ceremony of the South Asian Speakers' Summit, the Prime Minister announced that the country would be completely tobacco free by 2040. In that announcement, he emphasized three things as a plan. The first is the adoption of a nationwide national tobacco control program. The second step is to take steps to adopt a strong tobacco tariff policy. And lastly, to take all necessary steps to implement the Tobacco Control Act and to bring the laws in line with the SDG implementation priorities and to bring the laws in line with the FCTC.

We last amended the Tobacco Control Act in 2013. The World Health Organization advised that the law be reviewed every five years. We have already passed that time. Over time, there have been some new inconsistencies in existing laws. Especially smoking on public transport; Smoking on sidewalks and restaurants; Exhibition of tobacco products at the point of sale; Selling cigarette butts; Etc. It is time to review the issues. Otherwise, the government's anti-tobacco programs will fail to yield promising results. Therefore, it is important to take initiative to amend the law in a short time.

In her speech, the Prime Minister mentioned the need to harmonize the FCTC in amending the law. Other anti-tobacco organizations, including the World Health Organization, have made six proposals to amend existing laws, all in the light of the FCTC. Our 152 Hon'ble Members of Parliament have made recommendations in this regard. We believe that if all these amendments are included, Bangladesh will go a long way towards becoming tobacco free. These proposals are, 1. 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; 2. Prohibit the display of tobacco products at the place of sale; 3. A complete ban on the social responsibility program or CSR of tobacco companies; 4. Stop selling retail cigarettes or bidis; 5. Prohibit the import and sale of products such as C-Cigarettes and Heated Tobacco Products (HTP). Strict restrictions on the packaging of tobacco products, including increasing the size of illustrated health warnings.

Why did the Prime Minister announce the elimination of tobacco? Why did the promotion and spread of anti-tobacco activities increase in the country? The main reason for this is the damage caused by tobacco. According to the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) 2016, 35.3% of people aged 15 and over use some form of tobacco. Males constitute 46% of the population and females 25.2%. 16% of adults smoke. 20.6% of people use smokeless tobacco. 7.9% of minors (13-15 years old) use some form of tobacco. Tobacco is a deadly product. In Bangladesh, 8% of the deaths per year are due to non-communicable diseases such as stroke, heart attack, cancer, diabetic, kidney disease etc. And the main cause of these non-communicable diseases is tobacco. According to the World Health Organization's 'Tobacco: Key Fact' 2016, smokers have a 57% higher risk of lung cancer and a 109% higher risk of tobacco-related cancer. According to a study by the US Department of Health and Human Services, in 2016, about 126,000 people died in Bangladesh due to tobacco; Which is 13.5% of the total deMore than 61,000 children are suffering from tobacco-related diseases due to secondhand smoke. Economic losses due to tobacco-related diseases and deaths are 1.4% of national GDP. According to the data of 2016, the amount in terms of money is 30 thousand 560 crore.

As the elected representatives of the people, we are working to ensure the health of all citizens. ‘Bangladesh Parliamentary Forum for Health and Wellbeing’ formed to ensure universal health care; The Parliamentary Forum is working on the implementation of Tobacco Free Bangladesh. Following this, a letter signed by 152 members of Parliament demanding amendment of the existing Tobacco Control Act has already been handed over to the Hon'ble Minister of Health on behalf of the Forum. The Health Minister applauded the initiative of so many members of the National Assembly, irrespective of their party affiliation. He assured that he would stand by and assist in all necessary initiatives to amend the existing tobacco control laws. We believe, this initiative of ours; Contribute to ensuring the health of millions of people. The Prime Minister's announcement will be helpful in implementation.

Author: Professor Dr. Md. Habibe Millat, MP, Founding Chairman, Health Protection Foundation.