Nurul Islam Hasib
bdnews24.com Senior Correspondent
Dhaka, Jul 29 (bdnews24.com)—Tobacco control is Bangladesh's legal obligation as it ratified a key WHO treaty, the visiting President of Washington-based Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (CTFK) says.
Not complying with this treaty means the government allows people to die early, he maintains.
"Once ratified, it is a legal obligation to comply (the treaty)," Matthew Myers told bdnews24.com on Sunday.
"No one will penalise you (the government) for not complying, but it will mean that you are condemning your citizens to die prematurely."
Bangladesh ratified the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) in 2005, but according to Mayers, it is yet to fully implement the treaty, a key tool in the fight against tobacco menace.
After ratifying the treaty, the government had to enact a law in the same year, but the law did not follow the rules and guidelines of the treaty entirely, analysts say, encouraging more youths to take up the habit.
A study had showed more than 43 percent Bangladeshis aged 15 and above consume tobacco in one form or the other.
Estimates suggest 57,000 people die of tobacco related illness while nearly 300,000 suffer disabilities in Bangladesh where economists say tobacco prices are falling gradually since 2003 due to 'faulty' taxation.
Even the very issue of the FCTC on stopping interference from tobacco companies has reportedly been ignored, pushing back the amendment to the 2005 tobacco control law.
To make it stricter, the amendment process of the law started two and a half years ago, but it stopped apparently under the influence of tobacco giant British American Tobacco Bangladesh in a clear violation of the treaty's Article 5.3 and its guidelines.
Bangladesh also could not ensure smoke-free environment as it had promised by ratifying the treaty.
Myers, who is in Dhaka on a two-day visit, said it was time for Bangladesh 'to bring a law under the legal obligation.'
"Delay in passing the law only benefits the tobacco industry, not people," he said, "many countries could 'inhibit' smoking after enacting strong law."
The CTFK chief suggested incorporating smokeless tobacco such as zarda, sada pata and gul as tobacco products in the law, provision of pictorial health warnings covering 50 percent of cigarette packets, banning point-of-sale advertisement and lifting smoking zones inside the buildings.
"Incorporating smokeless tobacco in the law is critically important as so many people particularly women are the victims of it," he told bdnews24.com after he heard the agonies of tobacco victims in a discussion.
Myers who met with Health Minister AFM Ruhal Haque at the Secretariat hoped the meeting would expedite the process of passing tobacco control law.
But he suggested the Prime Minister's intervention to resolve the problem between the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and the Ministry of Finance when it comes to tobacco issues – law and taxation.
"Only political will and leadership can resolve the problem," he said, "The Prime Minister has an opportunity to change the lives of tens of thousands of people who use tobacco."
"Which side the Prime Minister will take, children or industry?" He advocated increased taxes on all Bangladeshi tobacco products, considered cheapest in the world.
Citing British Journal on Tobacco, the CTFK President said in Ukraine between 2005 and 2008, the government could not increase tobacco taxes much due to pressure from tobacco firms. Consumption did not fall at that time.
But in 2009-2010, they imposed 405 percent taxes and in 2009 consumption fell 13 percent and in 2010 it declined by 15 percent.
But the government's revenue did not decline, it increased, he said.
"There is no way to think that if people stop smoking, they stop spending money. They will spend in other consumer products that contribute greatly to the economy."
He said it could create new job opportunities also.
Myers helped to found the CTFK, a leading organisation in the fight to reduce tobacco use and its deadly toll across the world, in 1996.
Initially, he served as its Executive Vice President and Legal Counsel and oversaw the Campaign's legal and advocacy efforts.
On Jan 1, 2000, he took over as the President.
The CTFK helps Bangladesh in campaigning against tobacco particularly forming professional alliances and also in forming law.
The President, who will leave Dhaka on Monday, said they would also help Bangladesh to implement the new law once passed.