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30 May, 2019 09:04:33 PM
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‘1.26 lakh people die in country due to tobacco use’

World No Tobacco Day Today
Staff Reporter, Dhaka
‘1.26 lakh people die in country 
due to tobacco use’

Two of the five main causes of premature death worldwide are lung and respiratory illness. Lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), tuberculosis and asthma are among lung diseases caused due to tobacco use and indirect smoking. Some eight million people die every year in the world for using tobacco. Besides, more than one million people also die because of indirect effect of smoking or passive smoking. In Bangladesh, nearly 1.26 lakh people die every year for the use of tobacco. A documentary by anti-tobacco organisation Progotir Jonno Gyan (PROGGA) has revealed the aforesaid information on Wednesday. 

Against this backdrop, World Tobacco Free Day will be observed in the country and elsewhere in the world today with the slogan of 'Tobacco and Lung Health'. The World Health Organisation and its associate agencies have been observing the day since 1987. 

According to the PROGGA data, not only cigarette or bidi, many types of smokeless tobacco products such as jarda, gul, sadapata etc. also cause irreparable damages to lungs.  Smokeless tobacco products contain at least 30 types of carcinogens or cancer-causing chemicals. Special type of nitrosamine is also found among those tobacco products which are proven to be responsible for lung cancer. In addition to the damages to lungs, smokeless tobacco is also liable for mumps, salivary and stomach cancer.

Bangladesh is the first signatory country of the World Health Organisation Framework Convention of Tobacco Control (FCTC). The government has taken several initiatives to control tobacco. Anti-tobacco organisations are also vocal in this regard. According to the announcement of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the government is aiming at making the country tobacco free by 2040. 

In order to achieve this goal and increase revenue, the government is increasing the cigarette prices in the budget every year and imposing higher taxes. It has been made mandatory to provide pictorial health alert messages in tobacco products’ packets. However, such initiatives have failed to significantly rein in the number of smokers in the country. 

According to the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) conducted by Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, a total of 27 lakh smokers have goen down in eight years from 2009 to 2017. At present, there are about 3.78 crore tobacco users. Of them, the number of smokers is 1.92 crore. It is very difficult to achieve tobacco-free Bangladesh's goal in the next 21 years if the rate at which smoking is decreasing continues. According to the people concerned, one of the main obstacles to implement this goal is the locally produced illegal cigarettes that get tax evasion. 

In addition, Japan Tobacco International (JTI) has recently started their promotion of tobacco products breaking the existing tobacco law. This type of campaign is also a bad indication for achieving the government's goal. Currently the tobacco law of the country is fully compliant. However several of the JTI initiatives are great violations, which will most definitely hamper the tobacco control law. 

The JTI has been campaigning in different ways since entering into the Bangladesh market by violating Smoking and Tobacco Products Usage (Control) Act. Recently, a programme on Rabindranath Tagore's travelling history in Japan was broadcast on different media outlets by a popular actor and artiste Tahsan. Centering the program, a massive campaign was run in different places of the country as well as in the mass media. Japan Tobacco’s brand color and slogan 'Japanese Quality' have been used in the commercial advertisement although the existing law prohibits the publication/broadcast of any commercial activity for the purpose of promoting the use of tobacco products or tobacco in a direct and indirect way. It is a criminal offense too.  Regarding the promotional advertisement, many people have criticised the JTI on popular social media platform Facebook.  One Nazrul has posted: “Kabiguru Rabindranath Tagore has taken a place in the emotion of the Bangladeshi people. So, it was unwise to present him in such a way.”

According to sources at the Ministry of Finance and National Board of Revenue (NBR), the prices of cigarettes have been increased by about 30 per cent in the 2018-2019 fiscal year to bring the prices of cigarettes beyond the purchasing power of the people that in turns, was expected to decrease the number of smokers. In one year, the prices of a pack of 10-stick cigarettes have been increased by Tk8 from Tk27 to Tk35. And, the prices of cigarettes have been almost doubled in the last three years.  Companies must pay the maximum 81 per cent tax to produce cigarettes in Bangladesh. Taking the advantage of this price hike, many unscrupulous businessmen have brought illegally manufactured cigarettes in the market by dodging revenue. Some 20 companies across the country have illegally released about 50 brands of cigarettes in the market. These cigarettes are being sold at between Tk20 and Tk22. 

Such defiance to the fixed prices set by the government, the prices of these low-quality cigarettes are remaining within the people’s purchasing capacity. The low-income people are consuming these cigarettes. It should be noted that these illegal cigarettes are sold mostly outside of main cities. These products are mainly seen in Rongpur, Kushtia, Chottogram and Sylhet. 

As a result, the purpose of raising the prices of cigarettes by the government has been hampered. On the other hand, the government is losing about Tk 2,000 crore revenue annually from this sector.

According to three recently published reports of the NBR, the irregularities and corruption of the tobacco sector have been found from the stage of purchase and sale of tobacco raw materials to the customers. 

According to a report titled “Local reserves and market evaluation of domestic production of cigarette”, published by the Cox's Bazar VAT Commissionerate of the NBR, three companies are selling different brands of cigarettes at a reduced retail price between Tk14 and Tk17 instead of the government-set price of Tk35 in Cox's Bazar area. The brands include: Senor Gold One/Senor Gold Special of SM Tobacco Limited, Soft Black, Sanmar/Hero of Tara International Tobacco, City Black, Marble of Heritage Tobacco Industries Limited, and Sahara of International Tobacco Industries Limited.

On the other hand, according to two reports on verification of the information of purchasing cigarette/bidi paper by bidi manufacturing companies in Dhaka (East) region of customs, excise and VAT Commissionerate of the NBR, and verification of the information of the materials of bidi manufacturing companies in Rangpur region, a total of 28 bidi/cigarette factories have bought 9,510 rims of cigarette/bidi paper illegally without paying tax. It is possible to create 57.6 crore sticks of cigarette/bidi with the paper, containing 60 thousand per rim. However, according to the law, it is a penal offence to buy and sell various materials, including tobacco, cigarette and bidi papers, without paying VAT. Besides, many factories have also levied VAT in case of purchasing cigarette labels, brands and filter papers, polythene tissues, and other items.

Experts said that campaigns of cigarette companies, one done by the JTI, by breaching law and the availability of locally produced illegal cigarettes are obstructing the government's goal of tobacco control.  Such illegal campaigns and activities of the illegal tobacco market should be stopped before those go out of control, they say.  For this reason, the people concerned, including the officials of National Board of Revenue, will have to increase strict surveillance in the field level.

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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