Intervention of PM sought

Intended honour for tobacco producer draws flak

Political leaders, civil society members and non-governmental organisations, in separate statements, have demanded withdrawal of the National Board of Revenue decision to honour Md Kaus Mian, a harmful Zarda and tobacco product producer, as the Highest Taxpayer. They also protested the involvement of at least six government top officials' holding posts of Members of the Board of Directors of renowned tobacco companies of the country.

Terming such activities as 'Dual Play' to encourage the booming of tobacco and tobacco products in the country, rather than the government commitment to make Bangladesh Tobacco-Free by 2040, they sought the intervention of the Prime Minister and the concerned ministers for immediate action against the persons responsible in this connection.

It is learnt, Md Kaus Mian, the largest tobacco products and Zarda (smokeless chewing tobacco) producer, has been selected to be honoured by the National Board of Revenue this year as the highest taxpayer in the Business category of the country. It is further learnt, at least six top-level government officials at the rank of Secretary are also holding the posts of Members of Board of Directors of the British Tobacco Company which produces and markets various costly brands of cigarettes in the country in violation of the government rules and regulations of Tobacco Control Act.

It is also alleged, due to direct involvement of a key policymaker of the government, tobacco Company 'Japanese' was allowed to set up tobacco industries in the country in recent years which was continuing to advertise its products in violation of the government rules. Tamak Birodhi Nari Jote (Tabinij), an alliance of women against tobacco, in a statement has protested the decision of National Board of Revenue to honour Kaus Mian, and demanded immediate withdrawal of his name from the NBR list.

Farida Akhter, convener of Tabinij, said, we are surprised that despite the government’s commitment to make Bangladesh Tobacco-free by 2040, a government institution is encouraging the tobacco business by honouring a tobacco producer and businessman. Such actions will lead to the expansion of the tobacco business which will cause harm to the users.

Kaus Mian had also been awarded by NBR before, and protests were registered against such action by the tobacco control groups in Bangladesh. The repetition of such decision disregards the government’s commitment to tobacco control. Kaus Mian is the producer of harmful tobacco product 'gul'(raw tobacco dust used to put inside the mouth as a material for addiction) and the 'Hakimpuri Zarda', the brand which has the highest consumption record all over the country.

Kaus Mian’s income is from the business of selling this harmful product that causes health hazards to the consumers, particularly women. Zarda is also listed in the definition of tobacco products in the Smoking & Tobacco product usage (Control) Act, 2005, amended, 2013.

According to the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS), 2017, about 20.6pc (22 million adults) use smokeless tobacco; the consumption of smokeless tobacco is higher (24.8pc) among women compared to 16.2% men. Zarda is among the three most commonly used smokeless tobacco products in the country.

Bangladesh Food Safety Authority (BFSA) has tested Zarda produced by 22 producers including Hakimpuri in the Atomic Energy Centre laboratory. The test result shows the 22 samples contain heavy metals like lead, cadmium and chromium which can cause various deadly diseases including cancer to the people who use them.

The laboratory report also suggests that Zarda, manufactured by the very popular brand, contained much higher levels of Cadmium and Chromium. The same results were found in case of use of tobacco dust 'Gul', In the statement, she called upon the NBR to immediately withdraw Kaus Mian’s name from the list of highest tax payers to be honoured on 12 November, 2019.

Zamat Khan, General Secretary of Rajshahi Raskha Sangram Parishad also vehemently protested the move of NBR to honour a person who was encouraging the expansion of tobacco products in Bangladesh. He also demanded punishment of those government high-ups who were encouraging the expansion of tobacco use in the country by holding the posts of Members of Board of Directors of BTC.

Mustafizur Rahman Khan Alam, general secretary of National Awami Party (NAP), Rajshahi district in a statement termed the NBR move a clear violation of Tobacco Control Act in the country. He sought intervention of the Prime Minister and the ministers to immediately drop the name of Kaus Mian the honour list, and action against those six top-ranking government officials holding honorary posts BTC directors.

Mayor of Rajshahi City Corporation AHM Khairuzzaman Liton while talking to Bangladesh Post over telephone said, Rajshahi has been declared a tobacco-free city by RCC since several years ago. Terming the incident of honouring a tobacco producer as the highest taxpayer regrettable, he said, he did not have any idea why the government was honouring such person who would encourage the expansion of tobacco products and consumption.