‘Permanent funding must for tobacco control’

Speakers at a conference said that a permeant fund is needed for prevention and cessation of tobacco use. They called upon the authorities concerned to create a sustainable fund in order to maintain anti-tobacco programmes and other life-saving programmes to reduce devastating tobacco-related diseases and other negative impacts due to tobacco use.  

Bangladesh Anti-Tobacco Alliance (BATA), The Union and WBB Trust jointly arranged the ‘Conference on Sustainable Tobacco Control in Bangladesh’ at the Krishibid Institution Bangladesh (KIB) in Dhaka on Tuesday (January 12). 

Government and non-government officials, representatives from international organisations, environmentalists, public health experts, agriculturists, media representatives and anti-tobacco activists from across the country took part in the conference. The daylong conference was arranged in order to make Bangladesh free from tobacco by 2040. 

At the conference, a number of articles were presented in four sessions on the financing and amendment of the tobacco control law and its implementation, increase in taxes on tobacco, control of tobacco cultivation and protection of public health from tobacco companies.

Kazi Jebunnesa Begum, Additional Secretary (World Health Division) of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Mozaffar Hossain Paltu, President of National Tuberculosis Prevention Association, Brigadier (Retd.) Abdul Malek, Founding President of National Heart Foundation of Bangladesh, specialist doctor Prof Pran Gopal Dutta, Prof Dr AAMS Arefin Siddique, chairman of Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha and former Vice Chancellor of Dhaka University, Barrister Shameem Haider Patwari, MP from Gaibandha-1 constituency, Abu Naser Khan, Chairman of Paribesh Bachao Andolan (Poba), SM Golam Kibria, director general of Department of Films and Publications (DFP), Md Zillur Rahman Chowdhury, Joint Secretary and Coordinator of National Tobacco Control Cell, Saifuddin Ahmed, Coordinator of Bangladesh Anti-Tobacco Alliance, spoke at the conference, among others. 

Speaking at the conference, Dr Rumana Haque, a professor of Department of Economics of Dhaka University, said a sustainable fund is needed to control tobacco. Otherwise, it is not possible to build a tobacco-free Bangladesh. 

She said that the government and the private sector spend only Tk 40 crore on tobacco control. “We need funding assurances for sustainable tobacco control activities. A portion of the revenue income needs to be spent on tobacco control. The death rate from non-communicable diseases in Bangladesh has been steadily increasing. Controlling non-communicable diseases is not possible with treatment alone. The Health Promotion Foundation can play an important role in this,” she said. 

In his speech, AAMS Arefin Siddique said that smokers are 14 times more likely to be infected with Covid-19 than non-smokers. Providing quality treatment to the people for the growing disease is a big challenge for the state and the government. In this situation, it is very important to strengthen the immunity system by emphasising on health and environmental protection. The opportunity to spread tobacco for the sake of revenue should be stopped immediately, he added. 

Barrister Shameem Haider Patwari said that Bangladesh has the lowest tobacco tax in the world. There is no alternative to increasing tax on for controlling the harmful item. Neighboring countries have taken effective measures to ban cigarettes. “In the case of e-cigarettes, we are failing. The government's tobacco control activities are being hampered due to the influence of tobacco companies,” he commented. 

Saifuddin Ahmed said that the government and the non-government organisations need to ensure funding to run tobacco control activities smoothly. “We cannot use the surcharge on tobacco for tobacco control. We have to take necessary steps in this regard,” he said. 

Pran Gopal Dutta said that public health is the most important. Tobacco companies need to be strictly controlled.

Advocate Syed Mahbubul Alam emphasised on amending tobacco control law as soon as early. 

Farida Akhtar said, “Tobacco is a threat not only to health but also to the country's agriculture, environment and biodiversity. We need to increase food production by controlling tobacco.” 

The conference was attended by 150 representatives from 120 organizations across the country.