Report reveals tobacco industry’s moves to shape policy in Bangladesh

Report reveals tobacco industry’s moves to shape policy in Bangladesh

Government’s policy agenda in Bangladesh is still highly vulnerable to the interference of the tobacco industry, according to a study report revealed on Saturday.

Tobacco companies have managed to exploit the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic to the fullest for their benefit. The tobacco companies have particularly used their Corporate Social Responsibilities (CSR) as a pretense to infiltrate into policymaking and administration and extract a variety of benefits, the study says.

The study report titled ‘Tobacco Industry Interference Index: FCTC Article 5.3 Implementation Report, Bangladesh’, was disclosed in Dhaka at a webinar, jointly organised by research and advocacy organisation PROGGA (Knowledge for Progress) and Anti-Tobacco Media Alliance (ATMA).

The report says that Bangladesh’s progress in the implementation of Article 5.3 of WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) is not satisfactory at all.

Speaking at the webinar as the chief guest, Saber Hossain Chowdhury MP, the chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on Environment, Forest and Climate Change, said tobacco can’t be on the list of essential commodities in any way.

“I’ve already placed a Private Member’s Bill (in parliament) to exclude tobacco from the list of essential commodities. Providing tobacco companies with incentives from COVID-19 stimulus fund is totally unacceptable,” he added.

Muhammad Ruhul Quddus, former additional secretary of health and family welfare ministry and also former coordinator of National Tobacco Control Cell (NTCC) said the government has recently taken steps to amend the Tobacco Control Act.

The health ministry can raise awareness about the FCTC Article 5.3 obligation among the key ministries like finance, industries, commerce and agriculture so that the multi-faceted interferences of tobacco industry can be prevented especially during the ongoing amendment process of tobacco control law, he said.

Professor AAMS Arefin Siddique, chairman of Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS), while presiding over the event said tobacco use prevalence is such a problem that cannot be tackled only by the sole effort of the health ministry. Rather all ministries should make a concerted effort to curb this havoc, he said.

One of the most damning claims made in the report is that the tobacco industry has used the CSR programmes of companies as a pretense to get closer to policymakers, government officials and administration in order to exploit this connection to extract different benefits and to interfere in tobacco control activities.

In addition, the companies have even publicised their CSR activities as much as possible, effectively skirting the ban on tobacco advertising to salvage their corporate image among the public.

The study recommended banning all types of CSR activities of tobacco companies through an amendment of the law.

It has also been recommended to make all relevant ministries aware of the obligation to comply with Article 5.3. Since different ministries are not fully aware of the obligations of the government in tobacco control, tobacco companies find it too easy to confuse these entities.

Two multinational tobacco companies have managed to get the industries ministry (MoI) to issue letters ordering the local administrative bodies and law enforcement agencies to take steps to ensure that the manufacturing, marketing, supply and leaf purchase of these companies run smoothly despite the countrywide shutdown.

PROGGA conducted the study since 2018 to stress the need for the formulation of a policy in line with the FCTC Article 5.3 guidelines so that tobacco industry can no longer interfere in the tobacco control activities of the government.

The study was conducted with support from Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Stopping Tobacco Organisations and Products (STOP) is part of a global publication of the Global Centre for Good Governance in Tobacco Control (GGTC) at the School of Global Studies in Thammasat University.

The same study has been conducted in 57 countries this year. In the Global Index of Tobacco Industry Interference, Bangladesh has been placed in the 27th position.

However, still Bangladesh presents the worst scenario when it comes to tobacco industry interference among its South Asian peers. In the 2020 Index, Bangladesh has scored 68 which was 77 in the previous year.

Md. Shafiqul Islam, Bangladesh Country Advisor of Vital Strategies, Syed Mahfuzul Huq, WHO national professional officer, ABM Zubair, executive director of PROGGA, among others, spoke, while Mortuza Haider Liton, convener of Anti-Tobacco Media Alliance (ATMA) delivered the welcome address, said a release.

Source: Prothom Alo