Bangladesh is a developing nation and been engaged in development endeavors since after emergence in 1971 as an independent state. In line with other development initiatives, the government is concerned about overall public health and, thus spotted tobacco as a great threat. Therefore, to neutralize the threat, the government of Bangladesh (GoB) signed on the WHO Framework Convention of Tobacco Control, better known as FCTC.
Being the first signatory on the international treaty on tobacco control the GoB formulated the Smoking and Tobacco Products (Usage) Control Act in 2005. Unluckily, few loopholes made the law inappropriate to check tobacco use in the country rightly.
To comply with the age, the GOB amended tobacco control law in 2013 with a strong provision of Graphic Health Warning (GHW). In fact, the GHW on tobacco packets is exercised in different other countries and they have positive outcomes.
After the revised law, the tobacco packets should come with a GHW printed on the upper 50 percent, covering both sides, of all types of tobacco packets and containers. But, the Tobacco Industry (TI) in Bangladesh started casting their interference to impede the GHW implementation passage through all possible ways. In fact, with their interference, the legal implementation of the GHW is still uncertain.
The tobacco controlling organizations are trying hard to battle the TI moves. A series of events took place since 2013 with the interference of tobacco companies to hinder the GHW implementation process. The events are as followed in brief.
In May 02, 2013, the tobacco control law was amended with a provision of GHW on both sides of tobacco packets and containers covering 50 percent upper portions. But, on 12 November, Bangladesh Cigarette Manufacturers’ Association (BCMA) issued a letter to the Health Secretary seeking 18 months’ preparatory time to implement the GHW on tobacco packets.
In the first part of 2014, (on March 12, 2014), the BCMA met with the Law Secretary (legislative) to further delay the GHW printing process. On 25 of same month, the BCMA issued a letter to Law Secretary (legislative) seeking 18 months more to prepare for GHW implementation. The British American Tobacco Bangladesh (BATB) delegates had a meet with Health Minister on GHW issues on July 23, 2014.
The BCMA also held a meeting on December 02 in 2014 with Health Ministry to extend the GHW implementation time. The TC Rules were finalized and gazette on March 19 of 2015 allowing a 12-months provision for TI to implement the GHW on tobacco packets. The BCMA sent letter to Health Secretary to print GHW on lower parts of tobacco packs with the excuse of tax stamp placement problem.
On November 11, 2015, the BCMA members had a meeting with the National Board of Revenue (NBR)- the states revenue collection body, where BCMA showed reasons to print GHW on lower parts of tobacco packets. Again, on December 23, 2016, the BCMA issued letter to Health Secretary with a lawyer’s opinions about GHW placement on lower 50 percent space and sought its opinion.
Again, on 12 March, 2016, the BCMA advertised posters across the country placing GHW covering lower 50 percent spaces of tobacco packets. On the very next day (March 13, 2016), the Law Ministry nodded on BCMA request to print GHW on lower part of tobacco packets. National Tobacco Control Cell (NTCC) issued a public notice allowing the printing of GHW on lower parts on March 16, 2016. By this time, the High Court (HC) challenged the legality of the GHW printing on lower part of tobacco packets after a Writ Petition from anti-tobacco organizations – PROGGA, UBINIG and Prottyasha on September 08, 2016.
Meanwhile, a masked organization, naming ASH Bangladesh, filed another Writ Petition with the HC to validate public circular ordering to print GHW on lower 50 percent spaces. But the HC dismissed the ASH Bangladesh plea on March 19, 2017. The NTCC issued a new circular on July 04, 2017 ordering to print GHW mandatorily on upper 50 percent of tobacco packets.
The BCMA had a meeting with NBR, Finance Ministry, Ministry of Health, and NTCC with an urge to extend the GHW implementation process for one year more on August 10. Finally, the NBR, on 24 August 2017, being manipulated by TI moves, issued a letter to Ministry of Health to postpone the GHW implementation for one year.
H M Al Imran Khan :: Author is a development activist.