This means the government’s efforts to safeguard public health are succumbing to the various tactics the tobacco industry employs to promote and expand business
Bangladesh's progress in protecting its health policy from the interference of the tobacco industry is far from satisfactory, a study of 33 countries has found.
This means the government's efforts to safeguard public health are succumbing to the various tactics the tobacco industry employs to promote and expand business.
Bangladesh lags far behind in implementing anti-tobacco measures to protect national health. The country lies third from the bottom on the Global Tobacco Industry Interference Index.
Jordan's position is second from bottom while Japan is at the bottom as it faced the highest levels of industry meddling.
The index, which is the first of its kind, was released by Stopping Tobacco Organisations and Products (Stop). Stop is a partnership between the Tobacco Control Research Group at the University of Bath, the Global Centre for Good Governance in Tobacco Control, The International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, and Vital Strategies.
Failing to restrain tobacco use has two harsh consequences – it leads to a significant rise in tobacco-related illness and deaths, and deals a serious blow to the economy.
The economic cost is substantial as governments spend significant amounts on healthcare costs for treating the diseases caused by tobacco use, as well as dealing with the loss of productivity.
The Stop report has detailed a number of factors behind Bangladesh's poor ranking on the index.
Lack of government commitment
An all-encompassing government commitment is one of the key requirements to resist industry interference, as the key to tackle this meddling lies in the hands of the government.
Incumbent or retired government officials getting involved in the industry gives rise to a conflict of interest, weakening tobacco control measures.
A former senior secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture and a former secretary of the Ministry of Industries joined British American Tobacco Bangladesh as independent directors, playing a direct role in the company's promotion and expansion.
This has also happened in Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
Engaging non-health departments as pawns
The tobacco industry often lobbies non-health departments of the government, such as finance, commerce and trade, to advance its agenda. This undermines tobacco control policies.
The bidi industry in Bangladesh interfered in government attempts to apply tax on bidis. Upon meeting the finance and commerce ministers, the Bangladesh Bidi Owners Association submitted its proposals for the 2018-19 budget that included tax reduction requests and a request for cottage industry status for the bidi industry.
This caused bidi prices (non-filter) to remain unchanged in that budget.
CSR activities with ulterior agenda
The tobacco industry's CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) activities, in most cases, are wolves in sheep's clothing.
The underlying motive for providing aid during natural calamities and funding poverty alleviation projects is to buy public goodwill and make political gain.
British American Tobacco Bangladesh deposited Tk8.82 crore to the Bangladesh Labour Welfare Foundation fund under the Ministry of Labour and Employment.
The ministry promoted this donation on its official Facebook page while Bangladesh Labour Welfare Foundation acknowledged British American Tobacco Bangladesh as its partner organisation.
Endorsement of business expansion
Endorsing tobacco business expansion is another form of interference that Bangladesh has faced.
In 2018, the government endorsed Japan Tobacco International to expand its business in Bangladesh through foreign direct investment as the company acquired Akij Group for $1.47 billion.
The executive chairman of the Bangladesh Investment Development Authority was present at the deal signing ceremony.
Delay in precautionary measure implementation
Printing health warnings on tobacco packs was delayed by two years in Bangladesh.
With interference from the Bangladesh Cigarette Manufacturers Association, the law ministry gave the tobacco industry temporary permission in 2016 to print pictorial health warnings on the lower part of packs until 2017.
In July 2017, the health ministry then ordered tobacco companies to print such warnings on the more prominent upper half of tobacco packs from September 19 that year, revoking the earlier order.
However, following a petition by the association, the High Court postponed the order until May 2018.
Unnecessary industry interactions
There have been unnecessary interactions with the tobacco industry by government officials in Bangladesh.
Most of such interactions with British American Tobacco involved attending award ceremonies, such as the 'Most Female-Friendly Organisation' at the Women Leadership Summit where the international affairs adviser to the prime minister, Gowher Rizvi, presented the awards.
Lack of transparency
Lack of transparency in interactions with the tobacco industry is a problem faced by most countries, including Bangladesh.
In 2017, the Customs Intelligence and Investigation Directorate received funds from the Bangladesh Cigarette Manufacturers Association to observe a 'Cigarette Smuggling Prevention Week'. This was halted after exposure in the press.
However, it was replaced with British American Tobacco providing information to the National Bureau of Revenue to reduce illegal cigarette trade.