POST TIME: 6 September, 2018 00:00 00 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 6 September, 2018 01:30:30 AM
Tobacco industry’s inference disrupting public health measures
Staff Reporter

Tobacco industry’s inference disrupting public health measures

Bangladesh ranks poorly in tobacco control, as a new study has found that the country has a high level of interference by the tobacco industry. The study titled "Tobacco Industry Interference Index: Report on the Implementation of FCTC Article 5.3" was published at a seminar at the CIRDAP auditorium in Dhaka yesterday.

The study attempts to assess how the government has responded to interference by the tobacco industry, and what action the government has taken to safeguard public health-related policies amid instances of interference in the last two years.

The study— which is first of its kind—finds tobacco companies’ involvement in formulation of tobacco tax measures. It says meetings between high-level government officials and tobacco company representatives took place while preparing the national budget in subsequent years.

The study has found evidence where tobacco companies have been granted special benefits, which include allowing pictorial health warnings to be printed on the lower 50% of tobacco packs and a 25% tax waiver by the NBR on export of tobacco products by factories located in the Export Processing Zones (EPZ) etc.

There has been a conflict of interest between the government and tobacco companies. Since the government owns 10.85 per cent shares in British American Tobacco Bangladesh (BATB), it finds itself in a self-contradictory position to advance the tobacco control agenda while simultaneously promoting the tobacco business.

Government officials are actively taking part in tobacco industry-related CSR (corporate social responsibility) programmes.

As the government owns shares in a tobacco company, several high- level officials of different ministries have become members of the BATB CSR Committee by virtue of their position in the government, the study


The study says the Government of Bangladesh adopted the FCTC Article 5.3 Guidelines in 2008,which provides specific measures to protect the government from tobacco industry interference.

Although almost a decade has already passed, the policy based on the guidelines is yet to be formulated. The government is committed to adopting and implementing concrete measures in line with the FCTC Article 5.3 Guidelines to keep itself free from tobacco industry interference.

FCTC Article 5.3 is a major weapon to protect a country’s tobacco control measures and policies from the vested interests of tobacco companies. So, a coordinated government effort is necessary to implement FCTC Article 5.3. The questionnaire used in this study has been developed by the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) in the light of the specific recommendations from the Article 5.3 Guidelines. Information has been collected based on 20 questions, divided into seven categories.

In his speech as chief guest of the event, planning minister AHM Mustafa Kamal said: "The findings of the study will help devise future tobacco control measures."

He also assured that he will have a discussion with the finance minister to take necessary fiscal measures to increase tobacco products’ prices in the next budget.

Saber Hossain Chowdhury, MP, the guest of honor of the event, criticised the government’s share in the multinational tobacco company British American Tobacco Bangladesh (BATB) for the country’s poor performance in the Tobacco Industry Interference Index.

 "Six of the total 10 members of the BATB’s directorial board are current and former high-level government officials. This is how tobacco companies influence and interfere in policymaking and implementation," he said.

Former Dhaka University vice-chancellor Prof. AAMS Arefin Siddique said: "The recommendation made by the study to formulate a code-of-conduct for the government officials needs to be taken seriously.