The government is planning to bring another amendment to the tobacco control law aiming to shun loopholes from the existing law and make it time befitting.
The government plans to amend the law following repeated calls from experts and anti-tobacco activists who have been saying that the law has some loopholes and a tougher law is required to make a tobacco-free Bangladesh by 2040.
A study was carried out in this regard, which identified the loopholes in the ‘Smoking and Tobacco Products Usage (Control) (Amendment) Act, 2013’.
According to the study, the law lacks some major provisions from the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC). The loopholes include provisions for smoking zones in public places and public transport, display of tobacco products at the point of sale, not completely banning tobacco companies’ corporate social responsibility (CSR) programmes.
Department of Law of Dhaka International University (DIU) has carried out the study with the support of the Campaign for Tobacco-free Kids (CTFK). The findings of the study have already been unveiled with some recommendations.
The study suggested eliminating provisions for designated smoking areas, banning the display of tobacco products at the point of sale, and banning tobacco companies' CSR activities and sponsorships to strengthen the existing tobacco control law.
Against this backdrop, Health Minister Zahid Malik said that they are planning to bring an amendment to the law in order to make it stronger and more effective. “We will place the law in the Parliament for amendment very soon with an aim to build a tobacco-free Bangladesh by 2040,” he added.
The study also recommended increasing the size of graphic health warnings on tobacco packets to 85 percent, adopting plain packaging policy and banning the import, manufacture and sale of emerging tobacco products, including e-cigarettes.
Barrister Shameem Haider Patwary, MP, chairman of Board of Trustees and president of Tobacco Control and Research Cell at DIU who placed the study findings, said that the study will help the government to make a strong tobacco control law.
Dr AFM Ruhal Haque, former health minister and chairman of Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science & Technology, said that the study will help the policymakers in their attempts to amend the law.
Anti-tobacco activists called upon the government to impose a ban on e-cigarette and smokeless tobacco. They also called for introducing a licensing system for the sale of tobacco products.
“We hope that the issue of ban on e-cigarettes and smokeless tobacco will be covered by the planned amended law,” said Syed Saiful Alam Shovan, an anti-tobacco activist.
He also said that the import and marketing of e-cigarette are increasing in the country day by day as these are not prohibited as per the law. For this reason, the government or the non-government organisations are not in the role of quality regulator of this harmful product. If it is covered by the law, it will be possible to control the e-cigarette in the country, said Syed Saiful Alam Shovan.
Dr AFM Ruhul Haque said that the move to amend the law must emphasise on the need to ban smokeless tobacco. These have to be stopped anyway.
Hinting at the government’s thinking to impose ban on e-cigarette and introduce a licensing system for the sale of tobacco products, Health Minister Zahid Malik said, “Our expenditure in the health sector is much higher than the revenue we get from tobacco. The government is cordial to control tobacco use in Bangladesh. Many say that those who are involved with the tobacco companies are very strong, but they are not stronger than the government. We have already been able to reduce tobacco use through various programmes.”
Meanwhile, the Bangladesh Parliamentary Forum for Health and Wellbeing wrote a letter to the health minister demanding amendment of the tobacco control law. A total of 152 MPs signed the letter. “In the letter, we called for increasing the price of tobacco products. We also wrote a letter to the finance minister,” said Prof Dr Md Habibe Millat, MP, chairman of the forum.
Advocate Syed Mahbubul Alam Tahin, Secretary of Center for Law and Policy Affairs (CLPA), welcomed the move to amend the tobacco control law. The existing law gives the opportunity of ingenuity for the tobacco companies, while the law in various points fails to control smoking and use of other tobacco products properly. Amendment to the existing law can be a solution, he said.
The Smoking and Tobacco Products Usage (Control) (Amendment) Act, 2013 was introduced in Bangladesh in 2005, and it was amended in 2013 to close various loopholes, but many of the loopholes remain in the updated law.
According to the existing law, smoking in public places is prohibited. However, it is difficult to bring someone under this provision as the public places are not defined properly.
The law restricts all types of advertisements by tobacco companies, but it does not specify anything about a product display at the point of sale. Moreover, displaying tobacco products at outlets was not prohibited in the law.
The graphic health warning on tobacco packets is mandatory, but the size of the packaging is not specified. The existing law doesn’t address non-smoking tobacco products, which are also very harmful to public health. On the other hand, there is no provision in the law regarding e-cigarette.