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Bangladesh Enacts New Anti-Tobacco Rules

By Ishrat Chowdhury, Technical Advisor, The Union South-East Asia Office, International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease

After years of effort on the part of NGOs and Bangladesh’s anti-tobacco community, the country’s national parliament recently passed new tobacco control legislation that will help curb tobacco use by addressing several loopholes contained in previous regulations that did not go far enough to protect citizens from the harms of tobacco.

The new rules expand smoking bans across all modes of transportation and public places, including indoor workplaces, non-government offices and restaurants. The penalty for smokers violating the law in public places and transports has been increased six-fold. Moreover, penalties for companies violating provisions of the law have been increased from 1,000 BDT ($13 USD) to 100,000 or 200,000 BDT ($1300 – 2500USD). All fines will be doubled for repeat violations.

The new law also expands the definition of ‘tobacco’ by including smokeless tobacco products. This is an important change as 27.2% of Bangladeshi adults use smokeless tobacco. The amendment also requires graphic health warnings that cover 50% of both side tobacco packaging. It completely bans sales of tobacco products to minors as well as point-of-sale advertising and promotion, and restricts advertising and promotion of the tobacco industry’s alleged ‘corporate social responsibility’ activities. The amended law also bans misleading descriptors, such as ‘light’, ‘low-tar’, ‘mild’, ‘extra’ and ‘ultra’.

Unfortunately, the amended law still allows for designated smoking area in public places. But in reality, due to strict existent rules, few government institutions allocate smoking room in their premises.

Because of immense tobacco industry opposition, it took more than three years to develop and pass this amendment. Bloomberg Philanthropies grantees and Bangladesh Anti-Tobacco Alliance members persistently supported the amendment through innovative public campaigns: human chains, rallies, sit-ins, organizing cultural events, one-to-one advocacy with MPs, eminent journalists, playwrights and influential civil society members, and distributing fact sheets and advocacy toolkits to MPs.

To implement the law, strong rules need to be formulated as soon as possible. Establishing a self-sustaining National Tobacco Control Cell is also a mandate of the law, which will improve implementation. Ensuring public education on the amendment will be another huge task, particularly with regards to the new inclusion of smokeless tobacco products under the legislation. We have a lot to do, but we believe the new law will save thousands of lives and reduce the health cost burden of the tobacco epidemic in Bangladesh.