Controlling tobacco use is one of the ways to prevent the growing risk of non-communicable diseases in Bangladesh. Therefore, existing tobacco control laws need to be amended to strengthen tobacco control measures.
This was stated by the speakers at a discussion meeting with media persons titled 'Role of Media in Protecting Public Health: Tobacco Control Context' held at a hotel in the capital on Thursday. The discussion meeting was organised by the National Heart Foundation of Bangladesh in collaboration with the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
Professor Sohel Reza Choudhury, Head of Department of Epidemiology and Research at the National Heart Foundation Hospital and Research Institute, highlighted the harmful effects of tobacco on public health and the economy. He said, "Non-communicable diseases like cardiovascular disease and cancer are responsible for 67 percent of the total deaths in Bangladesh at present. And 22 percent of these deaths are premature deaths. Tobacco use is one of the reasons behind these non-communicable diseases."
He added that more than 126,000 people die of tobacco-related diseases in Bangladesh every year. Besides, the expenditure for treating these diseases and productivity loss is more than 30 thousand crore taka. It is possible to prevent the death rate and economic loss due to NCDs through controlling the use of tobacco.
The meeting highlighted the need to amend the existing tobacco control law and demanded the amendment as soon as possible. Former coordinator of the National Tobacco Control Cell and former Additional Secretary of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Md Ruhul Quddus said, "The existing Smoking and Using of Tobacco Products (Control) Act, in some cases, exempted the ban on smoking in public transport and restaurants. As a result, at this time of the covid-19 epidemic, it is putting the public at risk.
He added that although the existing tobacco control law is largely consistent with the World Health Organization's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control — FCTC, there are weaknesses in some areas. The current law does not prohibit the display of tobacco products in shops. Taking advantage of this opportunity, the packet is being used as an advertisement. On the other hand, open sale of single sticks or retail sticks of bidi-cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products is not prohibited. As a result, children and adolescents can afford these harmful products. Moreover, as the existing law does not prohibit the CSR of tobacco companies, the companies are promoting themselves.
Ruhul Quddus said the law does not ban emerging tobacco products such as e-cigarettes, a new threat to public health, especially teenagers and young adults. Again, although pictorial warnings were made mandatory on 50% of all tobacco products, the size of the packaging was not specified. As a result, illustrated warnings on small packets of bidis and smokeless tobacco products do not draw attention. Considering these aspects, tobacco control should be strengthened by amending the tobacco control law.
The media personnel present at the meeting expressed their views in favor of amending the law. They said the law needs to be amended as soon as possible to protect public health. For this, the journalists seem to play a supportive role.
News editor of 71 television Monir Hossain Liton, Nurul Islam Hasib, Special Correspondent of Bangladesh Post, Sushant Sinha, Special Correspondent of Jamuna Television and others spoke at the meeting.