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Another move to amend tobacco control law

Published : 12 Jul 2022 10:02 PM

The government has initiated another move to amend the tobacco control law in order to address loopholes and incorporate some new provisions in the interest of saving common people from the adverse impact of tobacco products. 

The new provisions include- ban on e-cigarette in Bangladesh, licensing system for the sale of tobacco products, no sale of tobacco products by hawkers and mobile shops, and the ban on the sale of cigarette and other tobacco products near educational institutions, hospitals, playgrounds and children’s parks. 

Under the fresh law, sweets, spices, perfumes, addictive products or any other mixture to tobacco and tobacco products will also be a punitive offence, while the definition of ‘public place’ will include some more new places as public places. 

The Health Services Division of Health and Family Welfare Ministry prepared the draft to bring another amendment to the ‘Smoking and Using of Tobacco Products (Control) Act’, which was enacted in 2005 and amended in 2013. 

Hossain Ali Khandaker, coordinator (additional secretary) at National Tobacco Control Cell (NTCC) of the ministry, said that the draft was uploaded on the ministry’s website for public opinion. After taking opinion till July 14, they would finalize the draft.  

Different anti-tobacco platforms, anti-tobacco activists and experts on public health appreciated the move. ABM Jubayer, executive director of Progga, has termed the draft amendment as time befitting. 

Syeda Anonna Rahman, head of program at Health Rights division of WBB Trust, and some others also echoed the same. She thanked the health ministry, NTCC and others involved in preparing the draft for taking the timely initiative. 

According to the draft, production, import, export, storage, transportation, sale and advertisement of all kinds of electronic nicotine delivery system and heated tobacco products, which are known as e-cigarettes or vape or vaping or oral nicotine pouches, and any parts of the e-cigarette are banned in Bangladesh. 

Violation of the provision is punishable by imprisonment for a maximum of six months or a fine of maximum Tk two lakh or both for the first time. The punishment will continue to double each time the offence is repeated. On the other hand, a maximum fine of Tk 5,000 will be applicable for using e-cigarette.

The existing ‘Smoking and Tobacco Products Usage (Control) Act’ mentions nothing about e-cigarette. However, use of the harmful product is drastically increasing in Bangladesh, causing a serious threat to public health. A large number of youths have already been addicted to it. 

Syed Saiful Alam Shovan, an anti-tobacco activist, said that the e-cigarette had started arriving in the country from different countries a few years ago by some giant tobacco companies, while some others are also preparing to come in the market. Many countries have already banned the e-cigarette. It is good news that the e-cigarette issue is coming under law, he added. 

There are two types of Emerging Tobacco Products (vaping and e-cigarette) available in the market- Electronic Nicotine Delivery System and Heated Tobacco Products. The World Health Organization (WHO) identified e-cigarette as harmful toxic product.

The draft of the ‘Smoking and Tobacco Products Usage (Control) (Amendment) Act, 2022’ also proposes a ban on the sale of tobacco and tobacco products by hawkers and mobile shops. 

Besides, the provision has also been incorporated to ban the sale of tobacco and tobacco products within 100 metres of the boundaries of educational institutions, hospitals, clinics, playgrounds and children’s parks.

Anyone violating the provisions will be fined a maximum of Tk 5,000 for the first time and the punishment will continue to double for repeat of the offence. 

TZe draft states that vendors must obtain a license from a local government body to sell tobacco and tobacco products in the retail market. Anyone who sells tobacco products without license will be fined a maximum of Tk 50,000 for the first time and the punishment will continue to double for repeat of the offence.

However, the ban on the sale of tobacco products near educational institutions and the licensing system have been introduced and made mandatory through a recent guideline of LGRD Ministry. 

As per the Article 8.1 of the guideline titled ‘Tobacco Control Implementation Guidelines for Local Government Institutes’, separate license must be issued for the sale of tobacco products or for the sale and purchase of tobacco products and renewal of such licenses by application subject to payment of fee every year fixed by the local government bodies. 

The Article 8.5 of the guideline says, not to issue any license for sale of tobacco products within 100 meters of any educational institutions and health care providers. 

The local government bodies, including city corporation, municipality and Union Parishad, have been empowered to issue the license and to enforce the ban on tobacco products sale in the shops near the educational institutions. 

Hailing the initiative of incorporating the provision, Shagufta Sultana, project director of Aid Foundation, said that the provision would play a vital role in controlling tobacco use in Bangladesh.

“Although the licensing system is stated in a guideline, the issue should be stated in the law as law is robust but the guideline is not. In many cases the Rules or guidelines don’t actually function as the law,” she told the Bangladesh Post. 

The draft proposes to print graphic health warnings on tobacco packets in Bengali with colour pictures and text relating to the damage caused by the use of tobacco products on 90% of the packaging, cartons and containers.

The existing law provides for the printing of health warnings in Bengali with colour pictures and text on the top 50% of the packets of bidi and e-cigarette and the boxes of jorda, but it is currently being printed in the lower half.

Meanwhile, alongside the sale of cigarette, tobacco advertisements are displayed in shops tactfully to attract people to smoking. The existing law restricts all types of advertisements by tobacco companies, but it does not specify anything about product display at point of sales (POS). Displaying tobacco products at outlets was not prohibited in the law. The draft also covers the issue and prohibits such advertisement at point of sales. 

Under the proposed amended law, no sweets, spices, perfumes, addictive products or any other mixture can be added to tobacco and tobacco products. 

If anyone violates the provision for the first time, he will face imprisonment for a maximum of six months or a fine up to Tk five lakh or both. The punishment will continue to double for each repeat of the offence.

According to the definition of ‘public place’ as per the draft of the ‘Smoking and Tobacco Products Usage (Control) (Amendment) Act, 2022’, some more new places will be included as public places. 

Anti-tobacco activists said that the tobacco control law is being violated largely in public places due to major loopholes in the law. The ‘Smoking and Tobacco Products Usage (Control) (Amendment) Act, 2013’ states that smoking in public places is prohibited and smoker in public place will be fined Tk 300. It is difficult to bring someone under this provision as there are complications in realising fine from the violators, while the public places in the law are also not defined properly. 

As per the existing law, if anyone smokes in restaurants or public transportation that are not confined within four walls, he won’t come under the law as these are not public places as per the law. Now, there are many restaurants and coffee shops which are not confined within four walls allowing smoking zones in those places. 

The draft also covers the issue as premises, open place, garden and all kinds of restaurants, coffee shops and tea shops will be public places after the law is amended. 

Anti-tobacco activists said that the existing law in various points fails to control smoking and use of other tobacco products properly. Another amendment to the existing law is a solution. 

Talking to the Bangladesh Post, ABM Jubayer of Progga said, “We have been demanding for another amendment to address the loopholes in the tobacco control law. The draft has been prepared properly. Now we want to see speedy enactment of the proposed amended law and its proper implementation.”  

Syeda Anonna Rahman of WBB Trust said that most of the things that need to be included to strengthen the tobacco control law have already been mentioned in the draft. However, the intervention of the tobacco companies is the main obstacle to tobacco control in Bangladesh. The draft doesn’t provide any guidance in this regard. 

It is very important for the law to have the necessary policy formulation to protect the policies from the interference of the tobacco companies, she said adding that if the sentence “Government would formulate necessary policies to protect the policy from the influence of tobacco companies in accordance with Article 5.3 of the FCTC” is added to Section 12 of the law, the tobacco control law will be stronger.