Finance ministry role questioned over tougher anti-tobacco law in Bangladesh

Dhaka, Aug 13 (bdnews24.com)

A group of anti-tobacco campaigners has made a petition to the Ministry of Finance under the Right to Information (RTI) Act to extract details of what they said ‘its involvement with the amending process of tobacco control law and the tobacco industries.’

The application has been filed amid what campaigners say the government’s ‘dillydallying in making the 2005 law stringent despite survey shows people are in favour of it’.

“I on behalf of several anti-tobacco groups filed the application to the ministry,” Farida Akhter, Executive Director of a research group Ubinig told a press conference on Monday.

She said their decision followed newspaper reports that the Ministry of Finance stood in the way of making the 2005 tobacco control law ‘stricter’ following the WHO treaty that Bangladesh ratified.

Farida added that they read from newspapers that the Ministry of Finance had recalled the draft when it was about to place in the cabinet meeting on December 19 last year.

Citing media reports, she said, tobacco giant British American Tobacco, Bangladesh convinced the ministry in the last moment even though the ministry itself endorsed the draft in July last year.

“We sought information about its (Ministry of Finance) involvement with the tobacco industries and how it follows the WHO FCTC in this regard,” she said, adding they were looking forward to ‘proper’ responses to all of their queries.

Bangladesh ratified the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) in 2005, but campaigners say 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, they alleged.

Study shows more than 43 percent Bangladeshis aged 15 and above consume tobacco in one form or the other in the absence of a tougher law.

The primary draft of the amended law suggested incorporating smokeless tobacco such as zarda, sada pata and gul as tobacco products, provision of pictorial health warnings covering 50 percent of cigarette packets, banning point-of-sale advertisement and no smoking zones inside the buildings.

A survey released on Sunday in Dhaka shows 98 percent Bangladeshi want to see a tougher tobacco control law while three-fourth of the 800 respondents find the warnings on the tobacco packets are not significant and thus almost all of them want pictorial health warnings covering 50 percent of the packets.

Recently visited President of Washington-based Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (CTFK) Matthew Myers told bdnews24.com that once WHO FCTC was ratified, “it is a legal obligation to comply.”

He said no one would penalise the government for not complying, “but it will mean that you are condemning your citizens to die prematurely.”

The RTI Act has been enacted in 2009 in an effort to empower citizens by ensuring transparency and accountability of public, autonomous and statutory bodies and private organisations.

It says anyone can request for any information to any government and non government organisation following a set of procedures.

Estimates suggest 57,000 people die of tobacco related illness while nearly 300,000 suffer disabilities in Bangladesh where economists say tobacco prices in terms are falling gradually since 2003 due to ‘faulty’ taxation.

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